Sudan Recovers Three Bodies of Slain Chinese Oil Workers
By Heba Aly
Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- The bodies of three Chinese oil workers were flown to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, today after they were shot dead by their kidnappers, the Sudanese foreign ministry said.
The bodies of three of the five workers presumed killed were recovered today during a trip by Sudanese and Chinese officials to the central state of South Kordofan, Ali Yousif, director general of protocol at the Foreign Ministry, said in a telephone interview. Three other workers, two of them wounded, were also returned, while a fourth is still missing.
``Three bodies were recovered,'' Yousif said. ``There are two bodies whose locations we don't know.''
The nine workers, of the China National Petroleum Corp., were kidnapped on Oct. 18 while working at Heglig oil field in South Kordofan, bordering the Darfur region and straddling the contested border between north and south Sudan.
The Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, citing China's foreign ministry, said today that only four workers were killed, not five as originally reported.
The workers' deaths won't deter Chinese companies from operating in Sudan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing. State-owned CNPC is China's top oil producer. China is the biggest investor in Sudan's oil industry, which pumps as much as 500,000 barrels of oil per day.
``China will continue to play the best role it can in aiding Sudan's economic and social development,'' Jiang said. ``We hope that Sudan will take effective and comprehensive measures to ensure the safety of Chinese people and their property.''
Rebel Group Blamed
The government in Khartoum blamed a Darfur rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, that has been fighting the government for almost six years and launched an unprecedented attack on the capital in May. JEM said it wasn't involved in the kidnappings.
``JEM has no connection whatsoever with this incident of Chinese oil workers,'' Ahmed Hussain Adam, a JEM spokesman, said in a telephone interview from London. ``JEM is committed to the provisions of international humanitarian law which prohibits attacks on civilians and prohibits hostage taking.''
Mukhtar Babu El-Nimer, the Amir, or chief, of the Arab Misseriya people in Muglad, in the western region of South Kordofan, said the kidnappers were members of his tribe with links to JEM.
``They are Misseriya, but they are associated with the Justice and Equality Movement of Khalil Ibrahim,'' he said in a telephone interview from Muglad. The kidnappers were part of the same group that abducted four Indian oil workers in May, he said.
There were contradictory reports about how the oil workers died.
Like the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, El-Nimer said the Sudanese government didn't attempt a rescue of the hostages.
``There was no fighting,'' he said. ``The government has troops there, but not near the area.''
The workers were killed because of infighting among the kidnappers, who previously planned to free the hostages, El- Nimer said.
Col. Valentino Tokmac, the commander of an integrated force of both northern and southern troops in the nearby oil-rich town of Abyei, said he had heard reports of a confrontation after negotiations between the kidnappers and the government stalled.
``I think that peaceful dialogue did not bring results,'' he said in a telephone interview from Abyei. ``We heard that fighting took place in a place a called Sitiep,'' near the border with Darfur. Col. Tokmac said he couldn't confirm that fighting had taken place.
El-Nimer said the kidnappers' motive was to secure economic development in the region.
``This area has no development and the oil is pouring out of it,'' he said. ``The government has done nothing for them. The oil is being pumped, but they haven't seen any benefits.''
Fighters loyal to JEM attacked a Chinese-run oilfield in Heglig last December and vowed to carry out more raids until Chinese companies left the country.
JEM accuses China of indirectly supporting the Sudanese government's military operations in Darfur through the sale of weapons to the government in Khartoum and investment in the oil industry. As many as 300,000 people have died in the conflict and some 3 million have been forced to flee their homes.
In May, four Indian oil workers and their Sudanese driver were abducted at Heglig. The area adjoins Abyei, whose status remains contested following a peace accord signed in 2005 that ended a 21-year civil war between the Muslim north and the mainly Christian and animist south.
The Chinese embassy in Khartoum, in a statement today, expressed ``strong indignation and condemnation'' over the incident and urged Sudan to take ``all necessary measures to ensure the safety of all Chinese citizens in Sudan.''
To contact the reporters on this story: Heba Aly in Khartoum via Johannesburg at [email protected].