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4 Chinese workers kidnapped in Darfur

Updated: 2013-01-15 01:46
By Zhao Shengnan ( China Daily)

Incident prompts call for tighter security for nationals in Africa

New calls for heightened security for Chinese nationals operating in Africa arise after four workers were kidnapped by armed men in Sudan's troubled Darfur region over the weekend.

Unknown assailants abducted the Chinese — an engineer and three drivers — together with five Sudanese late on Saturday at a road construction site near al-Fasher in North Darfur, the state news agency SUNA said on Sunday.

Rescue efforts are under way and other workers from the company, the Sudan branch of China Railway 18 Bureau Group, have been moved to safer locations, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Monday.

Construction at the site, which began in January of 2010, has been suspended.

Authorities were pursuing the kidnappers with 18 military vehicles, SUNA said.

China is Sudan's major trading partner and investor and Chinese companies have been playing an important role in boosting Sudan's economy.

Sudan had sought to assure China that it would protect Chinese workers after rebels kidnapped 29 Chinese workers in January last year, releasing them two weeks later, Reuters reported.

But Li Xinfeng, an expert on Sudanese studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the Sudanese government, gripped by ethnic and territorial disputes, often finds itself incapable of managing the task.

"Chinese citizens in the country should always be alert, and at the very least make sure they never venture out alone", he said.

The Chinese engineer was first reported missing around 4 pm local time after carrying out a routine inspection of the construction site.

The Chinese embassy in Khartoum has asked Sudanese officials to offer other Chinese companies better protection following the abductions.

Mohammed Suleiman Rabih, mayor of al-Kouma locality, denied that any deaths or injuries had occurred during the incident, Sudan Tribune reported.

No one has claimed responsibility for the abduction but sources have pointed to the rebel group Justice and Equality Movement, and others blamed a splinter faction of the Sudan Liberation Army led by Minni Minnawi, the paper said.

He Wenping, director of the African Studies Section at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the delay in claiming responsibility probably meant the kidnappers were likely to be seeking a ransom.

But Li said the kidnappers probably took the Chinese nationals because of the country's close ties with Sudanese government, making them valuable bargaining chips.

In recent years there have been many kidnappings in Darfur, where ethnic rebels began an uprising against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003.

Although violence is down from its peak, there are still many opposition groups in Darfur aiming to topple the government by hampering the country's development, Li said.

He Wenping suggested the latest incident will underline the need for companies operating in the country to hire professional security firms to protect workers. He highlighted the US-based Blackwater Security Consulting, for instance, a private security firms employed during the Iraq War.

Xinhua and AFP contributed to this story.

Contact the writer at zhaoshengnan@chinadaily.com.cn


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