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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"It's quite likely [the government] wants to break up Kalma [camp], because it's a security threat," de Waal says of Darfur's largest and most volatile camp, which houses some 88,000 displaced Darfuris. The UN says Sudanese forces killed 31 civilians last August when they tried to enter the camp in search of illegal weapons. "By expelling NGOs, you remove the main witnesses of whatever happens."Skip to next paragraph
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The expulsion of international NGOs from Sudan was not, as it may have appeared, the reaction from an angry, vulnerable president.
Within minutes of the March 4 announcement that President Bashir was wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, aid workers said at least six NGOs in Khartoum received phone calls requesting immediate meetings with the government's relief body, the Humanitarian Aid Commission in Khartoum.
Within the hour, some had already received letters revoking their licenses to operate. By the end of the day, in total 10 NGOs had been expelled. By the next day, three others had followed suit. Relatively speaking, the NGOs say, it was quite an organized operation.
The government accused the aid groups of being spies, conspiring with the ICC against the Sudanese president and threatening the country's national security.
Precisely a week later, a group of armed men took the three Western aid workers in northern Darfur, holding them hostage for three days, before releasing them unharmed. Both Doctors Without Borders and the government said they paid no ransom for their release.
At first, the government said the kidnappers were bandits. Now, North Darfur's governor Mohammed Osman Kibir says the group he identified as Eagles of Al Bashir, acted out of anger over the ICC decision.
Analysts say these abductions could also have been organized by the state's security services. According to one analyst, the kidnappers wore military uniform and were likely former Janjaweed militia who had been integrated into the state structure as border guards or Central Reserve Police.
"The fact that they entered the compound, that they abducted these people without looting the place, and that they were wearing camouflage – these aren't just bandits," he says. "There is plenty of banditry. This is something different."
This could just be a conspiracy theory. Darfur is an unstable place, home to armed peacekeepers, government troops, allied militia, and a myriad of different rebel factions, who have frequently turned against one another.
Most of the numerous carjackings and ambushes in the region are attributable to rebels trying to gain vehicles and communications equipment, international peacekeepers and aid workers say. "It's a very tense time and that's being exploited by various, nefarious actors on the ground," a US State Department official says.
The government says suggestions of its involvement in the kidnapping are "absolutely false," noting that it was instrumental in negotiating the aid workers' release.