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Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

Rebels warn Sudan against force to free hostages

October 27, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — Darfur rebels on Saturday warned Sudan not to use force to free five hostages taken in an oil field attack, and repeated threats to target more foreign workers if their companies did not leave in less than a week.

JEM_fighters-2.jpg“If they try to take them by force, we will not be responsible for their safety,” said Mahamat Bahar Ali Hamadein, a commander with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

JEM said it attacked the Defra oil field in the region of Kordofan, which neighbours Darfur, on Tuesday, killing 20 government soldiers in the assault.

Khartoum, which is highly sensitive about reports that might damage its vital oil industry, denied the attack took place — although state-controlled media on Saturday carried their first reports of the incident.

Armed forces spokesman brigadier Uthman al-Agbash told the Sudanese Media Centre earlier in the week that oil fields close to Defra were “secured”, without referring to the attack.

JEM’s Hamadein said five men were taken hostage during the Defra assault — one Egyptian, one Iraqi and three Sudanese — and were uninjured. But he made no guarantees about their future treatment.

“We are still deciding what to do with them. If foreign companies do not leave the area, we will make our decision after that,” he said.

“We want to tell foreign workers that they are safe at the moment. But if their companies don’t leave, they will become targets.”

The Egyptian hostage originally claimed to have dual Canadian nationality, said Hamadein. But that turned out not to be the case.

The insurgent group said it launched the attack to send a message to China to stop funding the Sudanese government through its oil industry. China’s CNPC <0135.HK> owns the largest stake in the Defra operation, run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) consortium.

JEM gave other foreign oil companies a week from Tuesday’s assault to leave the area and later warned it would target installations across Sudan until Khartoum gave in to a list of demands, which included full representation in the national government and compensation for Darfuris.

The reported Defra attack was the latest sign that the festering Darfur conflict could be spreading beyond the western region’s borders into central Sudan’s Kordofan area.

Rebels loyal to JEM and the Unity faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-Unity) attacked a government based in the Kordofan town of Wad Banda in August, kicking off a string of confrontations between rebels and government troops over the border in Darfur.

JEM and SLA-Unity on Friday announced a last-minute withdrawal from peace talks between rebel groups and Sudan’s government that started in the Libyan city of Sirte on Saturday.