March 31, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – Some of the civilians caught up in a hostage drama after being seized by a rebel group on 24 March en route to a refugee conference in Darfur have spoken out for the first time since their release on Saturday, saying they were genuinely displaced and had no links to the Sudanese government or security services.
The group of 31 refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) were returned to Zalingei in Central Darfur on Saturday with the assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) after being held by rebel forces for almost a week in an unknown location in Jebel Marra.
The group were arrested at gunpoint on 24 March by members of the Sudan Liberation Army led by Abdel Wahid al Nur (SLA-AW) while under the escort of UN peacekeepers as they travelled to the conference in South Darfur capital Nyala.
Speaking to Radio Dabanga on Sunday from Zalingei, Omda Khalil Khamees Suleiman, who was one of the hostages, said rebel forces initially assumed that they were government security agents linked to the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and that their release was arranged after the rebels realised “we are innocent displaced people and are in no way affiliated to the NCP or the government”.
Suleiman revealed that the group was also questioned about the nature of their participation in the Nyala conference and that they handed over letters to rebel troops that they had been planning to present to delegates at the event detailing the continuous harassment they faced in their residential areas.
His comments contradict previous statements to Radio Dabanga by Nur and the SLA-AW’s military spokesman Mustapha Tambour that the captives were security agents who had been posing as IDPs.
Another hostage, Yousef Abdel Khaleq, confirmed to Radio Dabanga that he is displaced from the Garsila area and denied any affiliation between himself or the other hostages with the NCP or the government security apparatus.
He expressed his gratitude to the ICRC and all other parties who assisted in their release and facilitated their safe arrival in Zalingei.
Suleiman has strongly criticised the peacekeepers from the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), who were escorting them on their trip, saying the troops handed them over “without any resistance”.
“They are immoral; all they did was raise their hands in the air, after which they handed us over”, he told Radio Dabanga.
UNAMID has launched an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the 24 incident, which occurred at the Arga checkpoint, at a border area between Central Darfur and South Darfur states.
The two-day conference, which concluded last Tuesday, was organised by the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) to address the concerns of refugees and IDPs, including voluntary return to their communities.
Suleiman told Radio Dabanga the group is now seeking a safe return to their families in the areas of Bindisi, Mukjar, Garsila, Deleig and Umm Khair.