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. Darfur rebel group kidnaps foreign oil workers

by Staff Writers
Khartoum (AFP) Oct 25, 2007
A Darfur rebel group has attacked a Sudanese oilfield and kidnapped a Canadian and an Iraqi worker, a leader of the group said on Thursday, vowing further attacks unless foreign oil companies pull out.

"We attacked Defra oilfield and kidnapped two foreign workers, one is Canadian and another is Iraqi," said Abdelaziz el-Nur Ashr, field commander for the Justice and Equality Movement in Kordofan, a region to the east of Darfur.

The attack took place on Tuesday, he said, with Darfur peace talks due to begin in Libya on Saturday. The Islamist JEM has already said it will not attend the negotiations which it has derided as "a masquerade."

The oilfield is run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) a consortium involving China's CNPC, India's ONGC, Malaysia's Petronas and Sudanese state-owned Sudapet.

Defra produces more than half of the around 500,000 barrels per day produced in Sudan, most of which is exported to China.

The attack came during a visit to Khartoum by Beijing's Darfur envoy Liu Guijin, who said on Wednesday that "the Darfur issue is developing generally towards a positive direction in spite of some difficulties."

Liu had been due to leave Sudan for the peace talks in Sirte on Thursday.

In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao confirmed reports that the oilfield in Darfur has been attacked, but said Chinese citizens working there were safe.

There was no immediate confirmation of the attack from the Khartoum government.

The JEM commander told AFP: "We want China, India and Malaysia to stop oil business because Khartoum is using the oil money to buy arms and kill the people in Darfur. This is our country and they must go," he told AFP.

"The people of Kordofan are suffering, they are not benefiting from the revenues generated from the oilfields. Instead, they are paying dearly for it with their lives."

The commander claimed that at least eight other nearby oilfields have since shut down fearing attacks.

"We are warning all oil companies working in this area that if they do not stop operations and go home, we shall attack them and force them out," Ashr told AFP by phone.

He said government forces deployed to protect the oilfields fled during the attack.

He said the two hostages would be released when the consortium agrees to hold talks with the rebel group, one of several that have been fighting the Sudanese government in the western region of Dafur since early 2003.

"We earlier made contacts with China through some diplomats, but it has refused to deal with us. It is now our position that we will release the two hostages after we talk with the company that employed them," Ashr said.

China is Sudan's top oil buyer and a key weapons supplier to the government in a relationship that has drawn much criticism in the West.

China has often been accused of failing to exert pressure on President Omar al-Beshir to stop the bloodshed in Darfur, where conflict has left at least 200,000 dead and displaced more than two million, according to UN figures.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said: "We attach a high-level of importance to the incident and hope all sides will immediately implement a complete ceasefire. We hope the Sudan problem will be resolved as soon as possible through peaceful negotiations.

"We hope Sudan can attach importance to China's concern."

China has consistently argued that the international community should not pressure the Sudanese government.

Talks on the Sudanese conflict are scheduled to start in Libya on Saturday. But the JEM and six factions of the Sudan Liberation Movement that are fighting in Darfur have vowed to boycott the talks.

Plans are underway to deploy a much larger hybrid African Union-UN peacekeeping force to replace a 7,000 strong African force in Darfur.

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Oil traded higher in Asia Thursday on news US energy stockpiles fell sharply last week and tensions rose in the Middle East after Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish rebel camps in Northern Iraq, dealers said.

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