Darfur refugees take 12 Sudan aid workers hostage

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 13, 2011 2:52 PM
Darfur refugees take 12 Sudan aid workers hostage

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Darfuri refugees have taken 12 Sudanese aid workers hostage in the volatile Kalma camp, a spokesman for the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission UNAMID said Wednesday, raising tension in strife-ridden west Sudan.

Millions have been driven from their homes into camps and an estimated 300,000 people have been killed in west Sudan's Darfur region as a result of a long-running revolt and government efforts to suppress it.

"The aid workers were taken on April 11 in retaliation for the arrest of an IDP (internally displaced person) ... on April 9 by national security," said UNAMID spokesman Chris Cycmanick.

The United Nations and leaders from Kalma Camp, in South Darfur, have mediated and expect the aid workers to be released later Wednesday, he said. During the incident other humanitarian groups suspended operations in the camp, he added.

Kalma Camp is one of the most politicized camps in the region, housing tens of thousands of people who fled the fighting and refuse to go home until it is safe to do so.

The Darfur revolt broke out in 2003 when mostly non-Arab insurgents took up arms demanding a bigger share of Sudan's wealth and power.

Khartoum unleashed a brutal counter-insurgency campaign, and tribal tensions and declining resources for farmers and cattle herders have complicated the conflict.

Law and order have collapsed in west Sudan where gangs of armed men rape, loot and kill with impunity. The United Nations estimates more than 2 million people have fled their homes and 300,000 have died.

The Darfur aid operation, the world's largest, has been hindered by government obstruction, expulsions, kidnappings and insecurity.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide and war crimes, but he denies the charges and Khartoum does not recognize the sovereignty of the ICC.

In 2009 the government expelled 13 of the largest international aid agencies from Darfur and information on the aid operation has since been sparse, remaining aid workers being scared to speak out about conditions in the region.

Khartoum accuses the Western media of exaggeration in its reporting of the conflict.

Rebel disunity and continued military offensives have led to the failure of peace talks, and the government has been gradually reasserting control over much of the region.

(Reporting by Opheera McDoom, editing by Tim Pearce)