Three foreigners working for the group Doctors Without Borders have been abducted in the western Darfur region of Sudan. The news is the latest blow to humanitarian operations in the region, following the expulsion of 13 international aid organizations last week.
Five staff members of the Belgian arm of Doctors Without Borders were abducted late Wednesday in Serif Umra Province, west of El Fasher in North Darfur. Two Sudanese staff were also abducted, but have since been released.
A spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Kemal Saiki, confirmed the abductions.
"Yesterday around 8 p.m. a number of staff members of MSF (Doctors Without Borders) Belgium has been obliged to follow a group of armed men that came to their office and left with them," he said.
Doctors Without Borders has identified the international staff as a Canadian nurse, an Italian doctor, and a French project coordinator.
The gunmen have not been identified. Attacks on aid workers in Darfur are far from rare. Last year, 11 humanitarian workers were killed and nearly 200 abducted, according to the United Nations. In addition to numerous rebel factions and government-backed militias, a growing number of bandits have taken advantage of the insecurity.
The government's decision last week to expel 13 international aid organizations from northern Sudan, along with the fact the Sudanese workers were released, is raising questions about political motives behind the attack.
The Dutch and French chapters of Doctors Without Borders were among the groups kicked out of Darfur last week, but the Belgian branch, along with Spanish and Swiss branches, have continued operating.
The Sudanese government claims the groups had passed information to the International Criminal Court. The court last week issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity and murder for the government's campaign against a rebel insurrection in Darfur.
The United Nations says nearly 200 aid workers have been forced to leave the country and the remaining agencies do not have the capacity to fill the gap in aid delivery.