Sudan confident Chinese hostages will be released
KHARTOUM (AFP) — The Sudanese government on Sunday expressed optimism that nine Chinese oil workers kidnapped more than a week ago seemingly by Darfur rebels would soon be released, safe and well.
"We are working to achieve the release. This will happen definitely, yes, I'm sure," foreign ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadiq told reporters after talks with China's visiting special envoy to Darfur, Liu Guijin.
Three Chinese engineers and six other workers employed by the China National Petroleum Corporation in South Kordofan, a state which includes the disputed oil district of Abyei, were kidnapped on October 18.
"They are fine," Sadiq added.
He attributed a "delay" in efforts to release the nine down to concerns over their safety.
"We don't want to engage in anything that might cause harm to the abducted. We are optimistic. We will achieve something," said Sadiq.
The diplomat said he had no idea when the workers would be released but stressed "hopefully it will be very soon".
Sadiq said the authorities know where the Chinese are being held, but refused to give further information in order not to jeopardise the rescue.
The Chinese were snatched in Heglig, near the line separating the former warring north and south, in the Muglad Basin where most of Sudan's proven oil reserves are located.
An Arab newspaper reported on Friday that the kidnappers want Chinese oil firms to leave the area in return for the hostages' release.
Sadiq said the government had no direct contact with the kidnappers and no information on their demands.
Instead local chiefs and tribesmen were spearheading efforts for a release, in coordination with the Chinese embassy and Sudanese government authorities.
"The Chinese envoy has conveyed his thanks to the government of Sudan and the local authorities who are working to achieve the release of the abducted people," said the foreign ministry spokesman.
The Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper quoted the alleged leader of the kidnappers as saying: "We want Chinese companies to leave the region immediately because they work with the government."
The daily identified the man as Abu Humaid Ahmad Dannay, and said he commands the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Kordofan.
The Sudanese government also says the kidnappers have identified themselves as JEM, the Darfur rebel group which attacked Khartoum last May.
Dannay, who Asharq Al-Awsat said belongs to the Arab Messeria tribe, said the hostages were in good health and being well treated.
The Messeria were blamed for kidnapping four Indian oil workers and their Sudanese driver in the same area in May. All five escaped or were released.
In the past, Darfur rebels have kidnapped foreign oil workers from Sudanese oilfields, often targeting Chinese companies because of their strong ties with Khartoum, although all of those abducted eventually emerged unscathed.
In October 2007, Darfur rebels from JEM attacked an oilfield run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, a consortium involving China's CNPC.
JEM has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the latest kidnapping.