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Sudan Blames Rebels for Kidnapping Chinese Oil Workers

By Derek Kilner

Nairobi

20 October 2008

Sudanese and Chinese officials are working together to make contact with the kidnappers of 9 Chinese oil workers abducted in central Sudan on Saturday. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, Sudanese officials have blamed the attack on a Darfur rebel group.

Gunmen kidnapped 9 employees of the China National Petroleum Corporation on Saturday at the Block-4 oil field, which straddles the border between northern Sudan and the semi-autonomous South, and lies to the east of the Darfur region.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Khartoum, Raymond Yu, said that there had not yet been any contact with the kidnappers.

"We have 9 Chinese oil workers who were working in the oil field, they were kidnapped together with a Sudanese driver," he said.

"Later, the Sudanese driver was released, but the 9 Chinese workers are still kidnapped. The Chinese embassy here is strengthening contacts and consultation with the Sudanese government."

According to the Sudanese state media, the Sudanese government has blamed the Justice and Equality Movement, a rebel group based in Darfur, for the kidnapping. The group was responsible for two attacks on Chinese oil installations in the area in late 2007, and had warned Chinese companies to leave the country.

The Justice and Equality Movement accuses China of backing Khartoum in the conflict in Darfur.

The research director of the Africa Asia Center at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, Dan Large, said such attacks have had little impact on China's oil operations in Sudan.

"In terms of its political impact, it certainly has brought China's role within Sudan to the closer attention of Chinese authorities in Beijing," he said. "But fundamentally this has not disrupted its oil operations in Sudan to date."

Large added, "It has exercised some influence politically, but so far has not persuaded China to adopt any form of robust pressure on Khartoum to resolve the conflict in Darfur."

Rebel spokesmen did not claim responsibility for the attack, but acknowledged that their forces are operating in the area and that it is possible that members of the group did abduct the workers.

In May, 4 Indian oil workers were also abducted in the area, then by Misseriya Arab tribesmen demanding a greater share of the country's oil wealth, and there was some speculation that the same group could again be responsible.

Large said China's special envoy for Darfur, Liu Guijin, is to visit Sudan later this week.

"This incident will almost certainly feature in his discussions with the Sudanese government," he said "But there will also be quite pressing issues he is expected to discuss as well, including the deployment of the UNAMID peacekeeping force in Darfur, as well as the current debate about the ICC discussion of the possible indictment of Sudan's president Omar Bashir."

China is the largest foreign investor in Sudanese oil, and Sudan's largest trading partner. Sudan supplies roughly seven percent of China's oil imports.



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