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[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): Kidnapped Chinese workers freed in Sudan oil state

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Tue, 7 Feb 2012 23:19:24 +0100

Kidnapped Chinese workers freed in Sudan oil state

Tue Feb 7, 2012 4:56pm GMT

(Adds Chinese foreign ministry, ICRC statement)

* Freed Chinese workers flown to Kenya

* Kidnap an embarrassment for Khartoum

By Ulf Laessing and Sui-Lee Wee

KHARTOUM/BEIJING, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Sudanese rebels released 29 Chinese
workers on Tuesday, ten days after kidnapping them in the main oil-producing
state of South Kordofan where the army has been fighting insurgents, Sudan's
foreign ministry said.

The incident had been an embarrassment for the Sudanese government, which is
trying to boost investment from China, its main political and trade ally, as
it seeks to overcome a severe economic crisis.

The rebel SPLM-North group said it had taken the construction workers for
their own security after a battle with the Sudanese army in South Kordofan,
which borders newly independent South Sudan.

But the workers had apparently become caught up in a dispute between
Khartoum and rebels who are trying to attract attention to the plight of
417,000 civilians who have fled fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile,
another Sudanese border state.

Khartoum has restricted access for aid workers and the United Nations in
both states, triggering warnings by the United States that a famine could
break out.

The 29 Chinese workers were flown out from Kauda in South Kordofan by the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the campaign group and
Sudan's foreign ministry said.

"The Sudanese foreign ministry affirms to the government and people of China
that Sudan's government seeks to protect Chinese investments and workers
involved in it," the ministry added in a statement.

The workers later arrived in Kenyan capital Nairobi "safe and sound",
China's official news agency, Xinhua, said, citing a statement from the
Chinese foreign ministry.

SPLM-North rebel spokesman Arnu Ngutulu Lodi declined to comment.

SPLM-North leaders met Chinese officials in Ethiopia last week.

Both South Kordofan and Blue Nile are home to large communities who sided
with the south during decades of civil war with Khartoum. Many say they have
been marginalised by the Khartoum government since South Sudan declared
independence in July under a 2005 peace deal.

The SPLM is now the ruling party in the independent south and dismisses
Khartoum's accusations that it supports SPLM-North rebels across the border.

China is an ally of both north and south and the main buyer of South
Sudanese oil as well the biggest investor in Sudan.

Western diplomats say China has the best chance of defusing tensions between
Khartoum and Juba, which are locked in a row over sharing oil wealth,
dividing up debt and ending violence on both sides of their shared boundary.


The kidnap was the third abduction of Chinese people in Sudan since 2004 and
highlighted the risks to China's expansion in Africa in search of minerals
and energy.

Beijing had faced immense pressure to secure the safe return of the abducted
workers. State-owned newspapers called for more protection for China's
workers overseas as the world's second-largest economy expands its
investments around the globe.

The workers belonged to state-owned Sinohydro Corporation, a hydropower
engineering and construction company.

Khartoum counts on China to boost investment as it seeks to overcome the
loss of three-quarters of its oil production, that South Sudan took with it
when it seceded.

Most Western firms shun Sudan due to a U.S. trade embargo imposed first in
1997 when Khartoum was hosting prominent militants such as Osama bin Laden.

SPLM-North is one of a number of rebel movements in underdeveloped border
areas who say they are fighting to overthrow Sudanese President Omar Hassan
al-Bashir and end what they see as the dominance of the Khartoum political
elite. (Writing by Ulf Laessing and Sui-Lee Wee, Editing by Ron Popeski)

C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved


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