Rebels have freed 36 members of an African Union team, including an American monitor, who were kidnapped in Sudan's western Darfur region, an AU spokesman said Monday as international envoys warned the region was again sliding into violence.
Two members of the team, its Senegalese leader and a translator were still being held, and an AU military high commander has gone to the Tine region near the border with Chad to negotiate their release, said Noureddine Mezni, spokesman for the African Union in Khartoum. The 36 were set free late Sunday, he said in an e-mail statement that gave no details on where the detainees were released.
The abductions occurred a day after two AU troops were killed by another rebel group — the first fatalities suffered by the pan-African body since it deployed peacekeepers to Darfur in April 2004.
"The international community should be very alarmed by these events because the situation is getting out of hand and we are sliding backwards," Baba Gana Kingibe, the organization's top envoy to Darfur, told The Associated Press. "We have had some very terrible tragedies, but this is one of the lowest points, if not the lowest, that we have had."
Kingibe's concerns were echoed by a top United Nations envoy, who said Darfur could again be engulfed by the type of indiscriminate violence that made it one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters two years ago.
"We have not turned the corner," Juan Mendez, the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, said Monday days after returning from a trip to the region and delivering a report to the UN Security Council. "I found the situation much more dangerous and worrisome than I expected it to be."
US Ambassador John Bolton raised the possibility of new sanctions against Sudan, saying the council needed to do more about worsening security. He later told The Associated Press that one possibility was to put more controls on weapons flowing into the country.
"Sanctions were put in before, it's not clear they're being adhered to," Bolton told AP. "The question (is) whether we should do something else in that area in terms of arms into the country."
The Sudanese government has condemned the abduction and killing of AU mission members in Sudan but said it was up to the African Union to stop the attacks. Khartoum also urged the international community to pressure rebels in Darfur to abide by a cease-fire agreement signed with the government.
"Serious measures should be taken by the African Union to halt this targeting of (its) personnel, of the civilians and of relief workers in Darfur by the rebels" the official Sudan news agency said Monday, quoting a statement issued by the government delegation to peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria.
The government said it was committed to continuing negotiations to resolve the crisis in the western region.
The AU has condemned the rebel killings and kidnappings, describing them as major violations of the shaky cease-fire deal aimed at ending the Darfur conflict that started in 2003 and has claimed the lives of more than 180,000 people.
The violence began after rebels took up arms against government forces, rising up against what it regarded as years of state neglect. Sudanese authorities are accused of subsequently unleashing militias known as the Janjaweed against the rebels, fanning a conflict that has sparked what the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The AU members and one American were taken hostage by the Justice and Equality Movement, a dissident faction of one of two main Darfur rebel groups, said Adam Thiam, a spokesman for AU Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare.
The freed American may have been part of a support group that is helping the AU mission in Darfur by providing logistics and helping fly in troops, according to an AU official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The other hostages included AU military observers, civilian police and a Justice and Equality Movement official, the official said.
The AU first deployed to Sudan with less than 500 peacekeepers, but its mission has grown to 6,200 with financial and logistical support from the EU, the United States and others.
The African Union also accused the other main Darfur rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army, of ambushing an AU patrol Saturday and killing two Nigerian soldiers and two Sudanese drivers attached to the team in South Darfur.
The violence occurred in a territory that is largely controlled by the rebel group and has a history of previous rebel interference and attacks against African Union teams, said an AU statement.
(Chinadaily.com via agencies October 11, 2005)