Kidnapping aid workers: part of Sudan's strategy?
Three Western aid workers were released Saturday. The government denies involvement but some analysts see a broader strategy at work.
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Canadian nurse Laura Archer, Italian doctor Mauro D'Ascanio, and French coordinator Raphaël Meunier, as well as their Sudanese watchman Sharif Mohamadin, all working for Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, were safely released Saturday by unknown gunmen after three days in captivity.
A rebel leader and analysts say the kidnapping and recent expulsion of 13 aid groups are part of a government strategy to scare away remaining aid workers and break up camps housing Sudanese civilians who have fled the war.
"This is the plan of Khartoum," the capital and seat of the Sudanese government, says Abdul Wahid al-Nour, the founder of the Sudan Liberation Movement, one of several rebel factions in Darfur fighting the government over claims that their people have been marginalized. Mr. Nour says the government is trying to force nongovernmental organizations out – "either by expelling them directly or terrorizing them."
The strategy, he argues, is to punish the people of Darfur, a semiarid land along Sudan's western border with Chad, where mostly non-Arab rebels have been fighting the Arab-dominated government since 2003. That punishment, he says, is either "directly" with attacks by Russian-made bomber planes and government-sponsored janjaweed militia – accused of some of the worst atrocities in Darfur – or "indirectly, by cutting off a lifeline to them, which is medication and food."
Sudan's government denies any involvement in the kidnapping. Sudanese officials told the Associated Press Saturday that they will increase protection for aid groups operating in Darfur. But aid groups generally resist such armed protection, viewing it as a violation of their impartiality.
Darfur was home to the world's largest humanitarian operation until the government last week expelled 13 aid organizations from the country – a move that sparked criticism from the United Nations and the Western world. The expulsion followed this month's decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to charge Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with war crimes.