Thursday, March 12, 2009

Medical Volunteers Kidnapped In Sudan

Days after Sudan's president derided international humanitarian workers here as "spies" and "thieves," three volunteers with Doctors Without Borders were kidnapped from their Darfur compound.

The abductions late Wednesday appeared to be part of the ongoing backlash in Sudan over an arrest warrant issued against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir last week by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Seven gunmen scaled the walls of the medical relief group's facility in Saraf Umra, 125 miles west of El Fasher, and seized the aid workers along with two Sudanese guards who later were released.

Although foreign aid workers in western Sudan have been robbed, carjacked, beaten and raped, the attack is believed to mark the first time international staffers have been kidnapped.

"This is something new," said Noureddine Mezni, spokesman for the UN mission in Darfur. "We deplore this act."

Doctors Without Borders said Thursday that it is withdrawing most of its international staff as a result of the attack, forcing the closings of several clinics and medical facilities that the agency operates in Darfur.

The identity of the kidnappers was unclear, officials said, but negotiations are under way to secure the workers' release. The victims are a Canadian nurse, an Italian doctor and a French administrator.

Sudanese government officials said they were assisting the talks.

The kidnappings come just a week after Doctors Without Borders found itself on a list of 13 international aid groups ordered to halt work in Darfur and leave the country. The expulsions came shortly after the International Criminal Court charged Bashir with seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from the government's counterinsurgency campaign in Darfur.

Two of the five Doctors Without Borders international divisions, from France and the Netherlands, were ordered out of the country. The Belgian unit was operating the clinic that was attacked Wednesday night.

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