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. Nine Chinese oil workers kidnapped near Sudan flashpoint

by Staff Writers
Khartoum (AFP) Oct 19, 2008
Nine Chinese oil workers have been kidnapped near Sudan's disputed central oil district of Abyei, the Chinese embassy said on Sunday, with a Sudanese driver also feared missing.

"Nine Chinese oil workers, they are kidnapped," an embassy spokesman told AFP, asking not to be named. "We're still looking into the issue. We're taking the necessary steps."

He said the kidnapping happened on Saturday and that the embassy was in crisis talks following the incident.

"We're now in a meeting with our ambassador," he said. "We have contacts with the Sudanese authorities to identify and localise the kidnappers."

He said the missing were three Chinese engineers and six other workers employed by the China National Petroleum Corporation in South Kordofan, a state which includes the disputed oil district of Abyei.

They were snatched around midday (0900 GMT) on Saturday while "on the road," he said, "probably by armed men." He said the group's Sudanese driver had not been taken.

However, a diplomatic source in Khartoum said that one Sudanese driver had been kidnapped and one released during the incident in Heglig in South Kordofan.

Heglig lies near the line separating the former warring parties of north and south Sudan, in the Muglad Basin where most of Sudan's proven oil reserves are found.

Ali Yousuf, director of protocol at the Sudanese foreign ministry, told AFP that Sudanese forces were scouring the area of the kidnap, inside the "Block 4" oil field, but "no contact has been made with the kidnappers."

The diplomatic source said that members of the Arab Messeria tribe had carried out the kidnapping because they want a greater share of the region's oil revenue.

The Messeria were also blamed for the kidnapping of four Indian oil workers and their Sudanese driver in the same area in May. All five managed to escape or were released unharmed, the last one in July.

In the past, Darfur rebels have kidnapped foreign oil workers from Sudanese oilfields, often targeting Chinese companies because of their strong ties with Khartoum, although all of those abducted eventually emerged unscathed.

In October 2007, Darfur rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement attacked an oilfield run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), a consortium involving China's CNPC.

In 2004, Darfur rebels from another group, the Sudan Liberation Army, kidnapped two Chinese engineers working on water projects in the western region, which neighbours Kordofan.

One of the engineers escaped and the other was released unharmed after less than two weeks.

Abyei and surrounding areas are prey to sporadic violence between tribes aligned either with the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum or with the administration in the south despite a 2005 peace deal that ended the civil war.

Under a roadmap for peace agreed in June, joint patrols are supposed to be restoring security in Abyei after May fighting flattened the area's main town and killed at least 89 people.

The violence was seen as the biggest threat to the fledgling peace process that ended 21 years of civil war between north and south in 2005 after more than 1.5 million people were killed.

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