KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) – The peacekeeping mission in Darfur confirmed Friday that four South African police advisers who went missing this week were abducted, adding that they are in “good shape” and negotiations for their release are under way.
The joint United Nations-African Union mission, or UNAMID, said officials had made telephone contact with the advisers early Friday.
“We were able to talk to the abductees early this morning and they are in good shape,” UNAMID spokesman Noureddine Mezni told the Associated Press. “We are satisfied with this but we will be more happy if they are released soon unharmed.”
The unarmed advisers, two women and two men, had not been heard from since Sunday afternoon shortly after they left their team site outside Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, on a 4 mile (7 kilometer) trip back to their private quarters.
In a statement Thursday to Sudan’s official SUNA news agency, a group called the People’s Democratic Struggle Movement claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and said it was ready to cooperate with the Sudanese government for the four advisers’ release.
The group’s leader, Jibrail Bukhari Abbas, said one of its members had independently carried out the abduction without instructions from the movement’s leadership.
Abbas said his group had joined peace talks with the government just last week, and that the kidnapper was unaware of the development.
The Darfur conflict began in February 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in Khartoum, claiming discrimination and neglect. Khartoum is accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes and unleashing militias on civilian populations, a charge the government denies.
U.N. officials say at least 300,000 people have lost their lives from violence, disease and displacement, and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes.
While the number of people dying because of the Darfur conflict has diminished, crime has not.
Last year, two international staff members working for UNAMID, two international aid workers, and a staff member for an international aid organization were abducted. In a report in late November, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the incidents of hostage taking of international workers “a new and deeply troubling development in Darfur, with the potential to undermine the efforts of the international community.”
These incidents, as well as ambushes, carjackings and violent robberies of staff residences “underscore the extremely difficult and volatile conditions” in which UNAMID and humanitarian workers are working, Ban said.