Sudan finds fourth Chinese hostage alive
KHARTOUM (AFP) — The Chinese embassy said on Friday that a fourth Chinese oil worker has been found in Sudan following a hostage ordeal that left at least four colleagues dead and exposed security failings in the industry.
Nine Chinese oil workers were abducted in Sudan's volatile South Kordofan state on October 18. Four bodies have since been retrieved. Another three are recovering from the experience back in safety. One remains missing.
Sudanese forces discovered the fourth man in the area where the hostage-taking unfolded and preparations were being made to fly him to Khartoum on Friday, said Beijing's ambassador to the oil-rich African country.
"The preliminary information that we have is that he does not have gunshot injuries. They told me he is ok -- so, so. But I'm sure he needs very good care," ambassador Li Chengwen told AFP.
"We're trying to retrieve him today," he added.
The Sudan military was not reachable for comment on Friday, the Muslim day of rest which brings most of Khartoum to a shut-down until early evening.
The circumstances remain unclear surrounding both the discovery of the fourth worker and the four deaths, with discrepancies between both the official Chinese and Sudanese version of events.
Beijing spoke of a rescue attempt and diplomats say they "understood" that the hostages were caught in crossfire, but Sudan denies any confrontation, saying the kidnappers spotted a helicopter, panicked and started shooting.
The three who were plucked alive from the wilds of South Kordofan last Tuesday had "escaped", Sudan said.
The government blamed Darfur rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) for the abductions, but local officials and diplomats pointed the finger at disaffected members of the Messeria tribe.
The Messeria were blamed for kidnapping four Indian oil workers and their Sudanese driver in Heglig in South Kordofan last May. Two of the Indians escaped alive, one was released and the other is missing, presumed dead.
A Chinese delegation from the Beijing government and the China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), for whom the nine hostages worked, arrived in Khartoum late Thursday, the state SUNA news agency said.
The Sudanese authorities are expected to brief them on the kidnapping and the visiting team will assess the measures in place to protect Chinese workers in Sudan, which exports nearly two thirds of its oil to China.
In the past, Darfur rebels have kidnapped foreigners from Sudanese oilfields, often targeting Chinese companies because of their strong ties with Khartoum, although all of those abducted eventually emerged unscathed.
Conflict in western Sudan's Darfur region has raged for nearly six years, after "ethnic" rebels rose up against the Arab-led regime in 2003.
With Sudan also recovering from a 21-year civil war between north and south, border areas, such as in South Kordofan, are also incredibly volatile.
Fears of insecurity also rose after gunmen shot dead two Sudanese working for HTC Yemen, in Unity State, in the semi-autonomous south on Wednesday.
Some analysts warn that the killings could have an adverse effect on oil exploration in Sudan, with early indications that investment is lagging because of security concerns over relations with local communities.