Kidnappers want $2 mln for Darfur aid workers
KHARTOUM, July 14 (Reuters) - Kidnappers of two female aid workers in Sudan's Darfur region have demanded $2 million for their release, but the government is determined not to pay, a minister said on Tuesday.
The two workers for Irish aid group GOAL were seized by armed men on July 3 from their base in the north Darfur town of Kutum -- the third abduction of foreign humanitarian staff in the region in four months.
"The kidnappers are asking for $2 million. But our policy is not to pay ransom. We feel that would encourage others to do the same," said state minister for humanitarian affairs Abdel Baqi al-Jailani.
The minister said Darfur officials were using local leaders to negotiate with the kidnappers, adding he was still expecting a positive outcome. "Our main priority remains the safety of the two women," he told Reuters.
Irish negotiators and government officials have sent teams to Khartoum and El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, to help free the women, named by GOAL as Hilda Kawuki, 42, from Uganda, and Sharon Commins, 32, from Dublin.
Two groups of foreign aid workers kidnapped in Darfur earlier this year were released unharmed after a period of negotiation.
A group calling itself the Eagles of Bashir said it seized staff from the Belgian arm of Medecins Sans Frontieres in north Darfur in March to protest against the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant for Sudan's president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, to face charges of human rights abuses in the region. Bashir has dismissed the allegations.
Another group, calling itself the Freedom Eagles of Africa, said it abducted staff from Aide Medicale Internationale in south Darfur in April to demand Paris retry members of Zoe's Ark, a French humanitarian group, convicted but later pardoned over the abduction of children from Chad.
The six-year Darfur conflict has pitted pro-government militias and troops against mostly non-Arab rebels, who took up arms in 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the region.
Estimates of the death toll range from 10,000 according to Khartoum, to 300,000 according to U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes.
The minister said reports in Sudanese state media the abductors were asking for $200 million were incorrect.
(Reporting by Andrew Heavens; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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