US kidnap woman describes Darfur 'nightmare'

26th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

An American aid worker abducted by gunmen in the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur on Monday described the "nightmare" of her situation in a telephone call to AFP.

"In the past it was okay, but now it is not. They are threatening me, my life, my health," the woman, who works for US aid group Samaritan's Purse, said.

She was kidnapped in mid-May in the village of Abu Ajura, south Darfur, along with two Sudanese colleagues who have since been released.

"I am not safe now. I don't have clean water, the situation changed very quickly into a nightmare. There are 20 men around me now," she said.

"I want to go home, I just hope they will release me."

The woman's identity was confirmed to AFP by Samaritan's Purse, but the aid group has requested that her name not be published.

It is the first time a Western woman has been held alone in Darfur.

Her abductors have asked for a large sum of money in exchange for her release.

"We have had talks with the Sudanese government, but nothing was reached. We have been holding her for nearly three months now," one of the kidnappers, identifying himself as Abu Mohammed al-Rizegui, told AFP via satellite phone.

That name has been used several times by armed groups committing abductions in Darfur, notably in the kidnappings of two aid workers for French group Aide Medicale Internationale (AMI) in April 2009, and two employees of the French Triangle GH in the Central African Republic in October 2009.

Darfur has been gripped by civil war since 2003 that has left 300,000 people dead and 2.7 million displaced, according to the United Nations. Khartoum says 10,000 have been killed in the conflict.

The vast western Sudanese region has also seen a wave of kidnappings of foreign nationals since March 2009, with 17 foreigners including 10 Westerners seized there.

All were later released unharmed except two employees of German group THW, who were abducted by gunmen from their offices in Nyala in June, and the Samaritan's Purse employee.

The US organisation, which works on projects to improve access to drinking water for small farmers in Darfur, is headed by influential American evangelist Franklin Graham.

Shortly before the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir, Graham said he feared any such arrest would create chaos in Sudan, after a peace deal signed in 2005 put an end to a decades-long north-south civil war.

Writing in March 2009 in the New York Times, Graham also said he had three times met Bashir, who has recently been charged with genocide in Darfur in addition to the earlier charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Observers say the spate of kidnappings in Darfur since last year is linked to Arab tribes who have in the past fought with Sudanese forces against rebels in the region.

The Sudanese authorities have repeatedly blamed the kidnappings on "bandits."

Britain's Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham, visiting Khartoum on Monday, expressed London's concern at the abductions.

"We urge the government of Sudan to take these kidnappings very seriously and to do what they can to ensure that those people who were responsible are apprehended and brought to justice," he said.

"I think it would greatly improve the standing of the government of Sudan in the eyes in the international community," Bellingham told reporters.

© 2010 AFP

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