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UNICEF denounces abduction of engineers in North Darfur

23 March 2008 – The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today condemned the hijacking and abduction in Sudan's North Darfur state of a team of engineers with the country's State Water Corporation and called for the immediate release of the four men and their equipment.

In a statement issued in Khartoum, UNICEF Representative Ted Chaiban said it was unacceptable that the employees of the State Water Corporation should be targeted in this way. The corporation is UNICEF's main counterpart in providing water and sanitation services across northern Sudan, including Darfur, and Mr. Chaiban called it “a valued partner” of the agency.

“This incident underlines that it is not only UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are vulnerable to such banditry,” he said. “Many humanitarian services are provided by technical staff from government departments and they too are at risk of such attacks. This cannot be condoned, and we demand that all such workers are allowed to operate with safety and security in the Darfur region.”

Unidentified gunmen hijacked the corporation team on Thursday night in Um Tajok in North Darfur, and the team's four drivers, its vehicles and its drilling rig remain missing today.

Banditry has become increasingly frequent in Darfur, where in the past five years more than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2.2 million others displaced from their homes because of fighting between rebels, Government forces and allied militiamen.

A hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping force known as UNAMID is being deployed to the region to try to quell the violence and the humanitarian suffering, but the mission is still lacking key capacities and remains far short of the 26,000 uniformed personnel expected when it reaches full capacity.

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