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Sudan says it has located kidnapped aid workers | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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KHARTOUM, (Reuters) – The Sudanese government has located three international aid workers kidnapped in Darfur and is negotiating with the abductors, a foreign ministry official said on Friday.

“We know where they are … We have established a link with them and we are discussing their terms,” foreign ministry undersecretary Mutrif Siddig, told Reuters.

The three workers from the Belgian arm of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres were seized along with two Sudanese staff on Wednesday, a move that further jeopardised humanitarian efforts in Sudan’s violent west.

MSF in Belgium had said the two Sudanese were quickly released but the three foreigners were still being held. It identified them as a Canadian nurse, an Italian doctor and a French coordinator. Catholic missionary news agency MISNA gave their names as Laura Archer, Mauro D’Ascanio and Raphael Meonier.

The kidnappings came after tensions rose in Sudan following the International Criminal Court’s decision last week to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir over accusations of war crimes in Darfur.

Siddig said the Sudanese government would avoid any action that could hurt the aid workers and was not planning to approach the group.

“The kidnappers are on the move because they fear they might be attacked by security forces but we are not going to do anything to endanger their safety,” he said.

Siddig said the kidnappers’ demands did not include suspending the International Criminal Court’s war crimes case against Bashir, as was reported in a pan-Arab paper on Friday.

But he declined to go into further detail about the identity of the abductors or their terms while negotiations were ongoing.

MSF on Friday said it had suspended all its operations in Darfur and pulled around 30 international staff back to Khartoum as a security move after the abductions in the north Darfur town of Saraf Omra.

“We are extremely concerned for our staff and for the people we were trying to assist in Darfur,” said MSF’s Nairobi-based spokeswoman Susan Sandars. She said there were particular worries for Saraf Omra, where MSF ran the only health clinic for the area’s 60,000 residents. “Now there will be no general health care, no surgical capacity, no emergency transport for critical patients,” said Sandars.

Sudan shut down 16 aid organisations after the ICC decision, saying they had helped the international court in the Hague, an accusation aid groups deny. Two arms of MSF were among those asked to leave, although MSF Belgium was not among them.

Aid officials have said they feared humanitarian workers could be targeted in the highly charged atmosphere after the global court’s judgement.

Sudan’s state media and government officials have used emotive rhetoric against the 13 expelled groups over the past week, accusing them of spying on the country and doing little to help Darfuris.

Pro-government newspaper Akhir Lahzah on Friday published an interview with a senior health official criticising MSF’s decision to suspend its Darfur operations after the kidnappings as a “spiteful act” made in retaliation to the expulsions.