January 30, 2012 / 1:50 AM / 8 years ago

China says contact cut with workers held in Sudan

BEIJING, Jan 30 (Reuters) - China’s embassy in Sudan has lost contact with 29 Chinese construction workers held by rebels in the strife-troubled border state of South Kordofan, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.

The rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) said on Sunday it was holding the Chinese workers for their own safety after a battle with the Sudanese army.

The army has been fighting the SPLM-N in South Kordofan bordering newly independent South Sudan since June.

But Beijing has said the workers were abducted and a Chinese Embassy official in Sudan told Xinhua they were out of contact.

“The abducted Chinese personnel have had all communications links with the outside world cut,” the unnamed official said, according to Xinhua.

The fate of the workers has become a major news story in China, where the nation’s expanding presence abroad — and awareness of its rising status — has triggered intense public sensitivity about nationals killed or taken hostage.

“The unstable political situation is the root reason for attack, and the possibility cannot be excluded that the rebels are targeting Chinese as a bargaining chip with the government,” Li Xinfeng, a researcher on African affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the China Daily newspaper.

Sudan, where China maintains major interests in oil and infrastructure building, has been a focus of those anxieties.

Sudan and South Sudan, at odds over a range of issues including oil revenues, regularly trade accusations of supporting insurgencies on each other’s territory.

South Kordofan is the main oil-producing state in Sudan. The SPLM is now the ruling party in the newly independent south of Sudan and denies supporting SPLM-North rebels across the border.

SPLM-North is one of a number of rebel movements in underdeveloped border areas which say they are fighting to overthrow Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and end what they see as the dominance of the Khartoum political elite.

Initial Chinese reports said 20 or more workers were taken by the rebels, who attacked the compound of a Chinese construction company operating in the area between the towns of Abbasiya and Rashad in South Kordofan.

Wang Zhiping, a manager for Sinohydro Corp Ltd that employs the workers, said the company and government agencies were “doing everything possible to rescue the missing workers”, Xinhua said. (Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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