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Jordanian peacekeepers released in Sudan

Two kidnapped officers freed after being held by "outlaws" for 136 days in troubled Darfur region.
Last Modified: 02 Jan 2013 18:13
A Jordanian embassy charge d'affaires said that the two men were 'in good health' [AFP]

Two Jordanian peacekeepers have arrived in the Sudanese capital after their release following 136 days of captivity in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

Hassan Mazawdeh and Qasem Sarhan appeared to be in good condition but made no comment on Wednesday as they stood with an official from the Jordanian embassy and a senior member of the African Union-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which employs them.

Aicha Elbasri, a UNAMID spokeswoman, told the AFP news agency that they had been held longer than anyone else during the five-year-old UNAMID mission, the world's largest peacekeeping operation.

Elbasri said the men flew to Khartoum after their release earlier on Wednesday in Zalingei, capital of the recently-created Central Darfur state, and would be returning home to Jordan.

The men were to be checked into hospital after their release by "outlaws", a Sudanese intelligence officer said.

The Jordanians went missing on August 20 in Kebkabiya town, about 140km west of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, where the UN has warned in recent months of rising insecurity.

"Police corporals Hassan Mazawdeh and Qasem Sarhan are now at the Jordanian mission, enjoying good health," the kingdom's Public Security Directorate said in a statement in Amman.

"We thank the Sudanese government and the United Nations for their help, support and co-ordination."

At the time of their disappearance, Jordan's police directorate said the pair were among a group of peacekeepers buying supplies in a market but had failed to show up at a pre-arranged meeting point at the end of the trip.

Wave of kidnappings

On Wednesday, the Jordanian charge d'affaires said a Sudanese negotiation team in Darfur "facilitated their release", working with a UN team and members of the Jordanian security service.

An analyst told AFP that it is often known very quickly who the kidnappers are, but negotiations take time.

Chances that the suspects will face trial are slim because "there are too many links between the government people, [and] the tribes," said the analyst who declined to be named.

"I'm calling for the Sudan government to investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice," Mohammed Yonis, a deputy chief of UNAMID, said at the Khartoum airport.

Recent years have seen a wave of kidnappings for ransom in Darfur, where ethnic rebels a decade ago began an uprising against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government.

Although violence is down from its peak, the razing of villages, fighting between rebels and the government, banditry, inter-Arab and tribal disputes continue to afflict the region, in Sudan's far west.

Last May, unknown captors released a British employee of the UN's World Food Programme who had been held for nearly three months in Darfur.

In February, rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement freed five Turks after several months.

That followed the release in December 2011 of Italian hostage Francesco Azzara, a humanitarian worker abducted for about four months. UNAMID blamed a "criminal element".

That same year, three Bulgarian helicopter pilots working under a UN contract were held for 145 days.

It was not immediately clear how many UNAMID members have been held hostage since the mission began, but 43 peacekeepers have been killed in hostile action.

Dane Smith, the US administration's senior adviser for Darfur, said in December that both militia and bandits have attacked UNAMID peacekeepers, and although Sudan's government announced probes "there never are any results".

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