International aid workers kidnapped in Darfur

Thu Mar 12, 2009 8:09am EDT
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By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Three international aid workers have been kidnapped in Darfur, officials said on Thursday, further complicating humanitarian operations in Sudan's west.

The three workers from the Belgian arm of Medecins Sans Frontieres were seized as tension escalated in Sudan following the decision by the International Criminal Court this month to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir over accusations of war crimes in Darfur.

"We can confirm that a group of armed men went to the location and ordered five persons to follow them. They were three international staff and two national staff," said Kemal Saiki, communications director for UNAMID peacekeepers in Darfur. UNAMID said the kidnapping took place late on Wednesday.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Belgium said that the two Sudanese nationals were quickly released but the three foreigners continued to be held. It identified them as a Canadian nurse, an Italian doctor and a French coordinator.

"Our thoughts are with the colleagues and families of those abducted. MSF is deeply concerned about their safety and is doing everything it can to determine their whereabouts and ensure their safe and swift return," an MSF statement said.

The kidnapping took place in Saraf Omra in north Darfur, where MSF Belgium runs a health clinic and dispensary serving tens of thousands of people, said Susan Sandars, an MSF spokeswoman in Nairobi, Kenya.

International experts say at least 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur, a mainly desert region in western Sudan, while Khartoum says 10,000 have died. The conflict flared when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003.