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While the kidnapping was most likely motivated by money rather than by politics, the abduction raises concerns about deteriorating security conditions in Darfur, where separatists have been battling government forces for the last six years.
“Armed men entered the residence of four civilian staff members in downtown El Fasher. They tied up two of them and made away with the other two in a vehicle. One man escaped and the other is still missing,” a UN mission spokesman told Russia’s RTT News.
The delegation had received a friendly welcome in the southern city of Juba, where people lined the streets cheering on the UN convoy. When it arrived in El Fasher, however, it was met by protesters who nearly prevented the group from leaving the airport, reports the Sudan Tribune. The demonstrators were supporters of President Omar al-Bashir who has been accused of war crimes in Darfur and is wanted by the International Criminal Court.
The UN group had refused to meet with Mr. Bashir, but this was likely not the cause of the kidnapping. According to the BBC’s James Copnall in Khartoum, several foreigners have been kindnapped in Darfur since the ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of the president, but the abductions have been most likely about money.
There are presently 1,000 foreign peacekeepers based in El Fasher, but only 600 of them live on a military base there. After the abduction, UN officials say that arrangements will likely be made relocate more of the peacekeepers to the military compound, where security is better.
The UN Security Council insists that the kidnapping was not linked to its visit. The mission included ambassadors from 15 nations. Their stated aim was to review preparations for South Sudan’s self-determination vote, which will take place on January 9. They visited Darfur due to concerns about renewed violence there, reports The Times of India.
Since 2003, the UN estimates that nearly 300,000 people have died in Darfur. The Sudanese government says that only about 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict and the UN’s numbers are politicized.
Although fighting has decreased in the troubled region, over the last several months there have been more clashes between rebel groups and Sudanese government forces, reports Deutsche Presse-Agentur. Just before the UN Security Council delegation arrived, the Sudanese army launched an attack against rebel positions near Darfur’s provincial capital.