Sunday, March 15, 2009
The United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission to Darfur (UNAMID) has welcomed the release of four aid workers who were abducted at gunpoint three days ago. The staff members worked for Médecins Sans Frontières. They had been taken at gunpoint from their office in the town of Saraf Omra on 11 March. One other Sudanese staff member abducted at the same time had been freed earlier.
One of those released yesterday, Dr. Mauro d'Ascanio of Italy, said he was fine and that he looks forward to speaking with his family. He is a native of Vicenza Italy, from where I am writing this. His kidnapping has been on the front pages of the Vicenza newspapers here, as you might expect. His kidnapping emphasizes how dangerous this volunteer work can be.
Mohammed Osman Kibir, the Wali, or governor, of North Darfur state, said he personally intervened by negotiating with the abductors over the telephone four times. According to a UN press release, the kidnappers told him that they had taken the doctors hostage in response to the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. Mr. Kibir said he was able to convince the gunmen that the abduction of the relief workers reflected badly on their country and that it was in Sudan's best interest to release them, with no ransom being paid either by the Government or by the NGO.
After the ICC announced the indictment of Mr. Al-Bashir, the Government ordered the expulsion of 13 aid groups which assist nearly 5 million people in Darfur. The United Nations and other institutions have urged the Sudanese authorities to reverse those expulsions.