No access to UN demining team held by Sudan

2012-05-01 00:00

DIPLOMATS from South Africa, Norway and Britain battled in vain yesterday to gain consular access to four demining workers abducted by Sudanese soldiers at the weekend.

The four, including South African Thabo Siavhe, were snatched on the South Sudan side of the disputed Heglig oilfield while engaged in a UN-supported demining operation.

Sudan alleges that they crossed the border illegally and that their presence proves South Sudan is getting foreign military assistance in the dispute.

Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the International Relations and Co-operation department, said staff at the SA Embassy in Khartoum are negotiating to get access to Siavhe, an employee of Denel Mechem.

“We have no idea where they are being held or the conditions under which they are held,” he said.

“Our Norwegian and British colleagues have been equally unsuccessful. We are trying to get more information about the circumstances of their arrest,” said Monyela.

Mechem CEO Ashley Williams said earlier the four were engaged in a demining operation for the UN, far from the border.

Norwegian John Sörbö (50) has worked for Norwegian People’s Aid in South Sudan since 2005 and knows the area well. Briton Chris Fielding is the UN’s field officer for the demining programme.

A Mechem team equipped with Casspir armoured vehicles were demining roads in the area, under the control of Sörbö and Fielding. The fourth man arrested was a South Sudanese driver who has worked for Mechem for years.

The Sudanese government alleged that the team was operating with “military equipment”, that they all had military training and that the driver was actually an officer in the South Sudan army.

The armoured vehicles used by the deminers are painted white and carry UN insignia and numberplates. Williams said the four have diplomatic immunity because they are working on a UN project.

The Sudanese and South Sudanese government are involved in an escalating dispute over control of the oilfield and of parts of the border area claimed by both countries.

Sudan, which has a stronger military, is engaged in aerial bombardment of the area.

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