Three international aid workers from Medecins Sans Frontieres have been kidnapped in Darfur, officials said on Thursday, further complicating humanitarian operations in Sudan’s west.
The three workers from the medical charity’s Belgian arm were seized alongside two Sudanese as tension escalated in Sudan following the International Criminal Court’s decision this month to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir over accusations of war crimes in Darfur.
“We can confirm that a group of armed men went to the location and ordered five persons to follow them. They were three international staff and two national staff,” said Kemal Saiki, communications director for the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, known as UNAMID.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Belgium said the two Sudanese were quickly released but the three foreigners were still held. It identified them as a Canadian nurse, an Italian doctor and a French coordinator.
“MSF is deeply concerned about their safety and is doing everything it can to determine their whereabouts and ensure their safe and swift return,” an MSF statement said.
Sudan shut down 16 aid organisations after the ICC decision, saying they had helped the court in the Hague, an accusation aid groups deny. Two arms of MSF were among those asked to leave, although MSF Belgium was not among them.
MSF said it would withdraw most staff from Darfur where conflict has simmered since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003. International experts say at least 200,000 people have been killed in the mainly desert western region, while Khartoum says 10,000 have died.