Two S.African demining company workers among Sudan arrests
A South African demining company on Sunday said that two of its employees were among four foreigners captured by the Sudanese military while on a UN landmine clearance contract in South Sudan.
State-owned firm Mechem CEO Ashley Williams said its workers, a South African and a local South Sudanese, were abducted with a British United Nations employee and a Norwegian in South Sudan.
“We are doing humanitarian landmine clearance on a UN contract and our members have full UN immunity. The abduction took place well within South Sudan territory,” he said.
Sudanese army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad on Saturday said the group were captured within Sudan’s borders in the tense Heglig oil area and brought to the capital Khartoum.
“This confirms what we said before, that South Sudan in its aggression against Heglig was supported by foreign experts,” he told reporters after the four were flown to Khartoum for “more investigation.”
But Williams said the group were not in the north, which split from the south last July after a peace deal ended one of Africa’s longest civil wars, and were on a humanitarian mission with no military role.
“It happened right in Southern Sudan,” he told AFP, saying the group were travelling south between two UN bases on the way back to Bentui.
“Then they grabbed them and drove back to Heglig with them where they then said they’ve arrested them in this disputed area while they weren’t there at all.”
A team remained in the area which the UN would bring out with protection and take to Bentui over fears of similar action, he said.
“It’s humanitarian work so the story of them being military advisors and this type of thing is completely and utterly nonsense and not true,” said Williams.
In the most serious fighting since the South’s independence, Juba’s troops occupied Sudan’s main oil region of Heglig for 10 days, a move which coincided with Sudanese air strikes against the South.
Sudan declared on April 20 that its troops had forced the Southern soldiers out of Heglig, but the South said it withdrew of its own accord.