Aid Workers Kidnapped in Kutum

3/6/2009 - Two female humanitarian workers in Sudan have been captured by an unamed armed gang. More than half a decade has passed since the resurgence of intense conflict in Sudan's Darfur region with little improvement.

Two aid workers working for the Irish humanitarian charity GOAL were abducted from the town of Kutum in the northern Darfur region.   Today, say UN officials from the African Union peacekeeping mission, armed men abducted Hilda Kawuki, 42 and Sharon Commins, 32 from their compound. Kawuki is from Uganda while Commins hails from Ireland. A Sudanese watchman was also abducted, but was later freed.

This is the third kidnapping in Darfur since March when the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Canadian, French, Italian, and Sudanese nationals working for a diverse number of charities have previously been abducted. The region surrounding the town of Kutum is rife with armed gangs. No group has claimed responsibility for the latest round of kidnappings as of yet.

The charges laid out by the ICC on al-Bashir are specifically (for war crimes), intentionally attacking civilians and pillaging; and (for crimes against humanity) murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape. The warrant against al-Bashir is the first ever to be issued to a sitting head of state.

The African Union (AU) has recently decided not to act on the arrest warrant for fear that it would destabalize efforts at peace in the region.  This means that no AU countries will arrest or extradite al-Bashir to the Hague. Other African nations are worried that the ICC is unfairly targeting the continent with more vigour than other countries.

This same day, the Sudan UMMA party and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) announced that they have signed an agreement that calls for a transitional government to take over until the elections planned for 2010. This coalition says it seeks a “Sudan that is based on citizenship rights [and] respect,” according to text in possession of the AFP.

The ongoing conflict in Darfur has killed over 300 000 people, with most of the violence escalating since 2003. Most of the casualties have been civilians.