21 May 2012

British capitive and three others released in Sudan

Sudan releases British national Chris Fielding and three other UN mine-clearing staff arrested on the tense south border and held for weeks.

Sudan releases British national Chris Fielding and three other UN mine clearers who were arrested on the tense south border and held for weeks.

Mr Fielding, John Sorbo, a Norweigian national who lives in Hertfordshire, and two others – a South African and a Sudanese man – were turned over to chief African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki. The men were detained for more than three weeks.

“We thank the government of Sudan and we appreciate the effort of President Mbeki. We are so happy now that we are going,” Mr Sorbo, said on behalf of his three colleagues at a ceremony in Khartoum.

They smiled and shook hands with the defence minister and Sudanese military officers. The men were later turned over to their respective embassies.

Mr Fielding is in good health and was released as part of a team, the Foreign Office said in a statement on Monday.

“I welcome the release of the demining team,” said David Lidington, minister of state responsible for Europe and Nato Issues. “British officials have met Mr Fielding and can confirm that he is healthy and was well treated by the Sudanese while he was in detention.”

UN in charge

Mr Sorbo’s wife told the media it was unclear when he would return to the UK.

“The UN will take over the rest of the arrangements,” South African Ambassador Graham Maitland told AFP as he met with his freed countryman Thabo Siave.

Norwegian Ambassador Jens-Petter Kjemprud said they would leave Sudan under UN auspices, “on the first available flight” back to their base in South Sudan.

Nationalist feeling has intensified in Sudan after South Sudan seized and occupied the north’s main Heglig oilfield for 10 days in April, a move that coincided with Sudanese air strikes against the South. It was the most serious fighting since the South’s independence last July, and raised fears of a wider war.

The South African de-mining company Mechem described the capture as an “abduction” by the Sudanese military, while the group, including its employees Siave and the unidentified South Sudanese, were on a UN landmine clearance contract in South Sudan.

Demining mission

While their employers say the men were on a de-mining mission on the South Sudanese side of the border, Sudan’s army suggested the men were working in support of South Sudan in its “aggression” against the north.

They were arrested in the Heglig oil region as they collected “war debris,” the military said. Diplomats have been pushing for access to the captives since early May. They were held at a military facility in Khartoum.

Ambassadors were told their citizens were under investigation because they illegally crossed the border into a military area, and had military equipment with them.