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Sudanese track down kidnapped aid workers

The Sudanese government has located three international aid workers kidnapped in Darfur and is negotiating with the abductors, a foreign ministry official said yesterday.

"We know where they are ... We have established a link with them and we are discussing their terms," foreign ministry undersecretary Mutrif Siddig said.

The three workers from the Belgian arm of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres were seized along with two Sudanese staff on Wednesday, a move that further jeopardized humanitarian efforts in Sudan's violent west.

MSF in Belgium had said the two Sudanese were quickly released but the three foreigners were still being held. It identified them as a Canadian nurse, an Italian doctor and a French coordinator. Catholic missionary news agency MISNA gave their names as Laura Archer, Mauro D'Ascanio and Raphael Meonier.

The kidnappings came after tensions rose in Sudan following the International Criminal Court's decision last week to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir over war crimes in Darfur.

Siddig said the Sudanese government would avoid any action that could hurt the aid workers and was not planning to approach the group.

"The kidnappers are on the move because they fear they might be attacked by security forces but we are not going to do anything to endanger their safety," he said.

Siddig said the kidnappers' demands did not include suspending the International Criminal Court's war crimes case against Bashir, as was reported in a pan-Arab paper yesterday. But he declined to go into further detail about the identity of the abductors or their terms while negotiations were ongoing.

MSF yesterday said it had suspended all its operations in Darfur and pulled around 30 international staff back to Khartoum as a security move after the abductions.

Sudan shut down 16 aid organizations after the ICC decision, saying they had helped the international court in the Hague.


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