Sudanese block off kidnappers' escape route to Darfur

25th September 2008, Comments 0 comments

The 19 hostages includes Germans, Italians and a Romanian.

Cairo -- Sudanese security forces have surrounded the kidnappers of a group of 19 tourists and Egyptian staff in a bid to prevent them escaping into the crisis-stricken region of Darfur, Foreign Ministry official Ali Youssef said Wednesday.

Youssef said troops had sealed off the village 25 kilometers from the Egyptian border where the group -- five Germans, five Italians, a Romanian and eight Egyptian staff snatched from a safari in Egypt's Western Desert -- was being held.

They had also closed all roads from the Uwainat Mountain border region into Darfur. "If they succeed in getting the hostages to Darfur, then we will have a greater crisis in front of us," he said.

Meanwhile, Egyptian security forces arrested dozens of suspects and questioned clan chiefs in a nomadic area in the country's far south on Wednesday, witnesses told DPA.

The security operation targeted the desert safari area called Wady el-Gadid in an attempt to identify the kidnappers.

Sudan's government had agreed with Egypt, Germany, Italy and Romania not to use force in any attempt to free the hostages, Youssef said.

Conflicting reports continued to emerge on the identity of the kidnappers: An Egyptian government spokesman said they were from Djibouti, the London-based al-Hayat newspaper reported.

But other Egyptian officials were quoted as saying one of the kidnappers came from Chad, while his three accomplices came from Sudan -- and an official at the Sudanese Foreign Ministry said the kidnappers were all Egyptians.

The head of the tourism council in the southern Pharaonic city of Luxor said the Egyptian government should speed up its efforts to resolve the situation.

"The Egyptian government is taking slow steps despite the seriousness of the issue," Ahmed Abbas said. "The issue affects Egypt's safety reputation."

Abbas said the area had experienced similar kidnappings before and the government did little about it. He urged the government to take serious measures to secure the safari regions.

Berlin-based daily Tagesspiegel reported Wednesday that a German man and his Egyptian companion had been robbed and held hostage a few months ago by members of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).

The pair had not reported the incident to avoid a lengthy police investigation, the newspaper said.

The group of 19 went missing on Friday while visiting the remote scenic Gilf Kebir area close to Egypt's borders with Libya, Chad and Sudan.

Various sources have been quoted in media reports as saying German and Italian authorities were negotiating with the kidnappers.

But while the two governments have confirmed they are monitoring the situation, they have declined to say if they were negotiating with the kidnappers.

Various reports have said the kidnappers were demanding between $ 6 million and $15 million.


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