Kidnapped Darfur aid workers make regular contact: minister

Other News Materials 12 July 2009 16:45 (UTC +04:00)

Negotiations with the kidnappers of two aid workers in Darfur are progressing well, and officials have established regular contact with the abducted women, a Sudanese government minister said on Sunday, according to Reuters.

"I think we may have good news soon ... People are negotiating with them now," said state minister for humanitarian affairs Abdel Baqi al-Jailani.

Up to eight armed men seized the two workers for Irish aid group GOAL from their compound in the north Darfur town of Kutum on Friday, July 3 -- the third kidnapping of foreign humanitarian staff in the region in four months.

Irish negotiators and government officials have sent teams to Khartoum and El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, to help free the women, named by GOAL as Hilda Kawuki, 42, from Uganda, and Sharon Commins, 32, from Dublin.

"The two ladies are in contact with the mission in El Fasher every day. They are being very brave and dealing with the situation they are in," al-Jailani told Reuters.

"The government is committed to a peaceful solution and is giving the kidnappers a lot of time. I am sure it will work, based on our past experience." The minister earlier said the kidnappers were bandits, hoping to get a ransom.

Aid workers say they have faced increasing hostility in Darfur since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir in March, accusing him of orchestrating atrocities in the region.

A group calling itself the Eagles of Bashir abducted foreign staff from the Belgian arm of Medecins sans Frontieres from North Darfur late that month, saying they were protesting against the court ruling.

The humanitarian workers were later released unharmed, as were two employees of France's Aide Medicale Internationale, taken from south Darfur in April.

Kidnappings of foreign aid staff in Darfur were almost unheard of before this year.

The six-year Darfur conflict has pitted pro-government militias and troops against mostly non-Arab rebels, who took up arms in 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the region.

Estimates of the death toll range from 10,000 according to Khartoum, to 300,000 according to U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes.