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China says Sudan hostages died in failed rescue
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Oct 28, 2008 - 8:48:44 AM

China says Sudan hostages died in failed rescue

By Associated Press  |   Tuesday, October 28, 2008  

BEIJING - Kidnappers killed five Chinese oil workers in Sudan during a failed rescue attempt by the Sudanese government, China’s Foreign Ministry said today.

A ministry spokeswoman gave few details about Monday’s rescue effort and the deaths — among the most violent acts China has faced in recent years during the expansion of Chinese businesses worldwide.

Two other workers were rescued during Monday’s operation while two more remained missing, said Jiang Yu, the spokeswoman.

Late Tuesday, the ministry said it was still investigating what had happened, after receiving new information from the Sudanese government that indicated four hostages had died, four were rescued and one was still missing.

Mohammed Doureik, the Sudanese commissioner of Abyei where the oil workers died, said the kidnappers panicked when they saw a military aircraft fly overhead and killed their hostages.

He said the plane was monitoring the hostages, who had been kidnapped Oct. 18.

Jiang said the Chinese government was involved in the rescue, but would not elaborate or say if officials had been in contact with the kidnappers. A working group of Chinese Embassy officials and executives from China National Petroleum Corp., the parent company of the oil workers’ employer, was in Sudan at the time, she said.

China’s account differed from that given by the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, which said Monday that the workers had been killed execution-style "without provocation." Spokesman Ali Sadiq said two more Chinese were injured but managed to flee and two others were still being held by the kidnappers.

The discrepancies between accounts could not immediately be resolved. Jiang defended both governments’ actions and put the onus on the kidnappers.

"The Chinese and Sudanese governments have made great efforts for their rescue," Jiang said at a regular news conference. "We express strong indignation and condemnation to the inhumane terrorist deed of the kidnappers in killing these unarmed Chinese workers."

But the kidnapping and rescue underscore both the dangers faced by Chinese firms and the pressure Beijing is under to protect its business interests as they expand globally, sometimes in conflict-ridden parts of the world.

China’s presence in Sudan — part of its push to expand worldwide to buy energy and other raw materials or find new markets — has become a target of disaffection. China buys nearly two-thirds of Sudan’s oil, providing what critics say are crucial revenues to a Sudanese government involved in a civil war in the Darfur region, where 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced.

Rebels have warned Chinese and other oil firms to leave the country, saying their operations help support the government in Khartoum.

"The incident rings the safety alarm bell for Chinese investing overseas," said Shu Yunguo, director of the Africa Research Center at Shanghai Normal University.

Shu and other experts said the killings would nevertheless not deter China in its search for energy and other raw materials to fuel economic growth — and that as a result ensuring workers’ safety had become a challenge.

"The one thing this reflects is the unfortunate cost that China pays for engagement in the world in less than stable situations, whether it’s Nigeria, in Pakistan, in (the Pakistani province of) Baluchistan, or Sudan," said David Zweig of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

"But China, being a latecomer and having invested so much in Sudan, is not about to pull out so fast," said Zweig.

Chinese oil workers have been attacked or taken hostage in Nigeria and Ethiopia. Earlier this month, Islamic militants captured two Chinese telecommunications engineers in Pakistan.

The recent hostage-taking was the third attack on Chinese targets in Sudan in 12 months.

The kidnappers snatched the China Petroleum Engineering and Construction Corp. workers near an oil field in the southwestern region of Kordofan.

Sudan’s government has blamed rebels from Darfur for kidnapping the Chinese, but on Monday a spokesman for the rebels denied involvement. A tribal leader from Kordofan told The Associated Press the kidnappers belonged to a local militia that claims it is neglected and demands jobs and benefits.

Jiang said China would not cut its business ties with Sudan, saying they were beneficial to both countries.

"We have actually played a constructive and contributing role in Sudan’s economic and social development. Our companies have brought a lot of benefit to the local people and we will continue to keep our friendly cooperation with Sudan," she said.

Though international rights groups criticize Beijing for not using its financial ties to pressure Khartoum to end violence, China has said it is working to advance the peace process in Darfur. It has about 140 peacekeepers and engineers deployed in Darfur.

Last year Beijing appointed a veteran diplomat to oversee the issue. The diplomat, Liu Guijin, returned to Khartoum on Friday for his fifth visit, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/international/asia_pacific/view.bg?articleid=1128368

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