Four foreigners investigating the debris from recent fighting between Sudan and South Sudan have…
Four foreigners investigating the debris from recent fighting between Sudan and South Sudan have been captured in the Heglig oilfield area, Khartoum’s military said on Saturday.
But a colleague of one of the men said they were deminers working on the South Sudanese side of the border. And the United Nations said one of its people was among the captives.
Sawarmi Khaled Saad, the army spokesman, identified the foreigners as a Briton, a Norwegian, a South African and a South Sudanese.
He was speaking to reporters after the four were flown to Khartoum for “more investigation.”
“We captured them inside Sudan’s borders, in the Heglig area, and they were collecting war debris for investigation,” Saad said at the airport.
He added that all four had military backgrounds, and were accompanied by military equipment and a military vehicle. He did not elaborate.
“This confirms what we said before, that South Sudan in its aggression against Heglig was supported by foreign experts,” the spokesman said.
Jan Ledang, country director for the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) mission in South Sudan, identified one of the captives as John Sorbo, also of NPA.
“It’s impossible that they were in Heglig — they were in Pariang” about a 90-minute drive from Heglig in the South’s Unity state, Ledang said.
They were doing some follow-up demining work in that area, he added.
“There were four people, and one of them was from the UN,” said Josephine Guerrero, a spokesperson for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
Sudan severely restricts access for journalists, diplomats and foreign aid workers in South Kordofan state to which Heglig belongs.
It did not allow reporters or other observers into the area during South Sudan’s 10-day occupation of the oilfield, meaning the situation on the ground has been difficult to verify.
Norwegian ambassador Jens-Petter Kjemprud earlier told AFP he had not yet been able to identify the Norwegian or meet the person.
“We are in contact with everyone who could try to give us the name,” and what possible reason the person might have had for being in the area, he said.
A British embassy spokesperson said they had heard reports of an arrest “and we are looking into it.”
An official at South Sudan’s embassy had no information, and South Africa’s diplomatic mission could not be reached.
In the most serious unrest since the South’s independence, Juba’s troops occupied Sudan’s main oil region of Heglig for 10 days, a move which coincided with air strikes against the South.
Sudan declared on April 20 that its army had forced the Southern soldiers out of Heglig, but the South said it withdrew of its own accord.
Each side blames the other for damaging the oil facility, which provided about half of Sudan’s oil output and is now shut pending repairs.
Last week the government organised brief, controlled visits to Heglig for journalists and foreign ambassadors.
“While the full story behind the withdrawal is not yet known, there is mounting evidence that the withdrawal was due to a mixture of fierce diplomatic pressure and military losses following a heavy bombing campaign by SAF on SPLA positions in and around the town,” said the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based independent research project.
It was not clear when the foreigners were detained.
They arrived in Khartoum on a civilian aircraft and were escorted directly to a minibus.
An AFP reporter saw that they were not handcuffed, but their clothes were dusty.