News & Current Affairs

September 29, 2008

Abducted Western tourists freed

Abducted Western tourists freed

A group of Western tourists and their Egyptian guides, who were kidnapped 10 days ago by gunmen, have been freed.

The 11 hostages – five Italians, five Germans and a Romanian – and some eight guides are said to be in good health.

The group, abducted in a remote border region of Egypt, have now arrived at a military base in the capital, Cairo.

Egyptian officials said they were freed in a mission near Sudan’s border with Chad, and that half of the kidnappers were killed. No ransom was paid.

The freed hostages were greeted by Egyptian military and government officials on arrival in Cairo as well as foreign diplomats, and were then taken for medical checks.

Sudanese authorities had been tracking the group since early last week through a remote mountainous plateau that straddles the borders of Egypt, Libya and Sudan.

map

They were seized in an ambush at around dawn on Monday, Egyptian security sources said. Some 150 Egyptian special forces were then sent to Sudan, officials said.

German officials had been negotiating via satellite phone with the kidnappers, who were demanding a ransom of $8.8m (£4.9m). Egyptian officials said no money exchanged hands.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that Sudanese and Egyptian forces had carried out “a highly professional operation”.

He added that “Italian intelligence and experts from the special forces” in Italy and Germany had been involved.

Egypt’s defense minister said that half of hostage-takers had been “eliminated”, without giving precise figures.

Reports suggest that Egypt’s tourism minister will be relieved.

The abductees had been touring in an area well off the beaten track but a messy end to this crisis would not have been good for the health of the Egyptian economy, our correspondent says.

Suspects

The breakthrough comes a day after Sudanese troops clashed with alleged kidnappers in northern Sudan, killing six gunmen. Another two were taken into custody.

The two suspects claimed the tourists were in Chad but their exact whereabouts at the time of rescue remains unclear. Chad denied the group was within its borders.

In a statement, the military said the vehicle of the hostage-takers was full of weapons and documents detailing how the ransom should have been paid.

Other documents found inside led the army to believe a faction of the Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Army was involved in the kidnapping.

None of Darfur’s numerous rebel groups have said they were linked to the kidnappings.

Other reports said the abduction, near the Gilf al-Kebir plateau, was carried out by tribesmen or bandits operating in the area.

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September 18, 2008

UN admits Darfur troop shortfall

UN admits Darfur troop shortfall

A Unamid peacekeeper talks to civilians in Darfur (UN image from 2006)

Unamid had hoped to deploy 80% of 26,000 mandated troops by 2009

Only half the troops intended for a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force for the Sudanese region of Darfur will be deployed by 2009, the UN says.

Alain Le Roy, the new head of UN peacekeeping, said only 13,000 of the 26,000 troops authorized for the Unamid force would arrive by the end of 2008.

Unamid took over peacekeeping duties in the war-ravaged Darfur province last January from a 7,000-strong AU force.

It had planned to have more than 20,000 staff deployed by the start of 2009.

But by last month it had only 8,100 troops and fewer than 2,000 police on the ground.

In July, Unamid’s commander, Nigerian Gen Martin Agwai, expressed optimism that 80% of the force could be deployed by year’s end. That optimism was echoed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

But Mr Le Roy said: “I think 80% sadly has been, as far as I know so far, a bit optimistic.”

He said the arrival of Thai and Nepalese units in Darfur had been delayed, adding that he expected an additional 3,000 troops and police to be on the ground by the end of November, primarily from Ethiopia and Egypt.

In July, seven Unamid peacekeepers were killed and 22 injured when they were attacked by heavily armed militia in northern Darfur, prompting the UN to move its non-essential staff to locations outside the country.

Some 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur since 2003, while more than two million people have fled their homes, the UN estimates.

Sudan’s government denies mobilising Arab Janjaweed militias to attack black African civilians in Darfur since rebels took up arms in 2003.

August 27, 2008

Sudanese plane hijacked in Darfur

 

 

Sudanese plane hijacked in Darfur

 

 

A Boeing 737 (generic image from Boeing website)

The plane is a Boeing 737

A Sudanese airliner hijacked shortly after take-off from Nyala, in Darfur region, has landed in Libya.

The plane was on its way to Khartoum, but has landed in the remote town of Kufra near the Libya-Sudan border, Sudanese aviation officials say.

The hijackers have asked for fuel to fly the plane, belonging to Sudanese airline Sun Air and with 95 people on board, to France.

Officials said members of a former Darfur rebel group were on the plane.

A Sudanese security official said a man with a knife had hijacked the plane, The Associated Press news agency reported.

Aviation officials said the plane, a Boeing 737, had landed at the Libyan oasis town of Kufra, in the desert near the border with Sudan.

Rebel denial

The three former rebels allegedly on board were originally said to be senior members of a faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Minni Arkou Minnawi.

Map

His group was the only one to sign a peace deal with the Khartoum government in 2006.

However, a spokesman for Minni Minnawi said his three associates had not taken part in the hijacking.

The AFP news agency then reported that the hijackers were members of a hard-line rebel group whose leader lives in France.

A five-year conflict in Darfur has left about 200,000 people dead and more than two million homeless.

Sudanese civil aviation officials told the BBC’s Amber Henshaw in Khartoum that the plane had landed in Libya.

Arabic satellite network al-Jazeera said the plane initially tried to land in Cairo, Egypt, where it was denied permission to land.

The desert Oasis of Kufra is in a remote region approximately 1,700km (1,050 miles) south of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

It is an area close to both the Sudanese and Chadian borders, and is often used as a corridor for humanitarian aid for displaced Darfuri refugees in Chad, as well as a transit point into the country by illegal immigrants, says the BBC’s Rana Jawad, in Tripoli.

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