China, Sudan hunt for missing oil workers
KHARTOUM (AFP) — Chinese and Sudanese officials said Wednesday they were scouring the bush for three Chinese oil workers missing in a hostage ordeal that has already seen three of their co-workers killed.
"We are working now to find three missing people. There are unconfirmed reports that one of the other three has been killed but there is nothing to prove that," Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadiq told AFP.
He said it was "very difficult to tell" whether the three oil workers are being held hostage or whether they had broken free and were roaming the forest. The army "had stepped in" to assist with the search operation, he said.
"We are expecting to get something new this evening or this afternoon," said the spokesman.
Three engineers and six other workers from the China National Petroleum Corp were snatched in an oil-rich area of South Kordofan, on the fault line between former warring north and south Sudan, on October 18.
Giant elephant grass, which grows around 12 feet (3.5 metres) high across the wild terrain, considerably hampers search and rescue operations.
"We are working together with the Sudanese parties to try and find them. Up to now we have no information," Chinese Ambassador Li Chengwen told AFP.
The bodies of three Chinese oil workers and three of their wounded colleagues were flown to Khartoum on Tuesday. China said four hostages were killed.
Diplomatic sources said the body of an Indian oil worker, who was not abducted or connected to the Chinese, was recovered from the same area.
Sudan denies any attempt to rescue the Chinese, insisting local leaders were "very close" to a deal when the hostages were killed on Monday after the kidnappers spotted a helicopter and panicked.
Beijing spoke of a rescue attempt and diplomats say they "understood" that the hostages were caught in cross fire.
Sudan blamed a Darfur rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, for the abductions, but local officials and diplomats point 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 last May. Two of the Indians escaped alive, one was released and one is missing, presumed dead.