Sudan: who abducted Chinese oil workers?

Sudanese security forces are searching for nine Chinese oil workers kidnapped in Southern Kordofan on Oct. 19. The men were working for the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) at an oilfield run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), a consortium of four oil companies from China, India, Malaysia and Sudan. It produces more than 300,000 barrels of crude per day. The government initially blamed the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a Darfur rebel group. Chinese diplomats, however, said the captors were probably local tribesmen.

Ali Youssef, head of protocol at the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, said the kidnappers were believed to be members of JEM’s “Kordofan sector.” El-Tahir el-Feki, JEM’s spokesman in London, could not immediately confirm to the New York Times whether the group had carried out the kidnapping, but said JEM has forces “around the oil regions.” He said, “We carried out operations in the oil regions before and warned the firms and individuals that whoever is there is considered a legitimate military target.” The JEM kidnapped five oil workers—an Egyptian, an Iraqi and three Sudanese—in October 2007, calling the move a warning to oil companies that finance the Sudanese government. The workers were later released.

However, a Sudanese driver accompanying the Chinese managed to escape and was able to relay information about the identity of the kidnappers to authorities, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Sadiq told AP. Sadiq said the kidnappers seemed to have no political or military demands but just want a part of the revenue of the region’s oil resources. “We think it is a share of the oil profits” they want, he said.

One unidentified diplomatic source told Reuters that members of the Arab Messeria tribe had carried out the attack to demand a greater share of the region’s oil revenue. Kordofan is near the disputed central region of Abyei, where Messeria (variously rendered Miserriya or Misseriya) nomads backed by Khartoum have been fighting Dinka pastroalists backed by the SPLA. (Reuters, AP, NYT, AsiaNews, Oct. 20; AlJazeera, Oct. 19)

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