Five members of the Belgian branch of Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF) have been kidnapped in Sudan's Darfur. Citizens of France, Canada and Italy were among those kidnapped last night by a group of armed men who entered the workers' office in Saraf Umra, an official said. "I can confirm the kidnap of three international employees and two local employees," said the official. The Belgian foreign ministry confirmed the kidnapping but said there were no Belgians involved.
The French and Dutch branches of MSF were among 13 groups kicked out of Darfur last week after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for the Sudan president, Omar al Bashir, for war crimes. The Sudanese government had accused MSF and 12 other aid groups of cooperating with the ICC, which accuses Mr Bashir of orchestrating a campaign of murder, torture, rape, forcible displacement and pillage in Darfur.
More than 180 foreign aid workers have since left Sudan, according to the UN, which has warned that hundreds of thousands of aid-dependent people were being put at risk by the expulsions. The US president, Barack Obama, warned on Tuesday that the expulsions were "not acceptable." "We have a potential crisis of even greater dimensions than we already saw," Mr Obama said. On Tuesday, the US embassy in Khartoum said it was allowing non-essential staff to leave Sudan and had introduced "heightened security measures" after receiving information of "terrorist threats" aimed at Western interests in the country.
"The Department of State has authorised the departure of non-emergency personnel and family members at the US embassy in Khartoum until further notice," an embassy statement said. Americans were also advised to defer all travel to Sudan "due to uncertain security conditions following the expulsion of NGOs as well as harassment of humanitarian aid workers, employees of non-governmental organisations, and Westerners in general."
Sudanese army jeeps blocked roads leading to the French embassy in Khartoum on Tuesday and troops secured a perimeter around the mission after a Sudanese newspaper reported that militant groups had vowed suicide attacks against French, as well as British and US interests. According to the World Food Programme, four of its partner relief agencies - Action Against Hunger, Save the Children USA, Solidarites and Care International which were expelled - took care of 35 per cent of its food distribution in Darfur.
The UN Nations says about 300,000 people have died in Darfur from the combined results of war, famine and disease after ethnic rebels rebelled against the Khartoum government in Darfur, complaining of discrimination. Another 2.7 million people have been displaced. *AFP