Five of the nine Chinese oil workers who were kidnapped on Oct. 18 in the Kordofan region of Sudan, which is adjacent to Darfur, were killed on Monday. There are conflicting reports on how the Chinese were killed, with China asserting that they died in a failed rescue attempt and the Sudanese government stating that they were executed by their captors. Of the remaining four hostages, two were injured and escaped and two remain with the unidentified kidnappers. Accor-ding to the Associated Press, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, who reported the executions, has blamed Darfur rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement. The organization has denied any involvement, and tribal chiefs in the area are currently negotiating with the kidnappers.
Though other countries like Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia also invest in Sudanese oil, this is the third attack on Chinese assets in Sudan over the last 12 months. China buys nearly two-thirds of Sudan’s oil, and some have speculated that China’s considerable investments have funded the Sudanese government’s attack of Darfur that has left over 300,000 people dead to date.
“The Chinese have strong military links with Sudan. The Chinese government claims that Chinese sales to Sudan represent just eight percent of Sudan’s arms imports and that Sudan itself is the third largest arms producer in Africa after South Africa and Egypt,” stated Prof. Sarah Kreps, government, in an e-mail. “In a conflicting claim, however, a former Sudanese government minister indicated that China is Sudan’s largest supplier of weapons, and it’s plausible that these are then used to support activities in Darfur.”
Though the Darfur crisis has garnered most media attention in recent years, one Sudanese national stressed that it is not the only war that Sudan is experiencing.
“Many people don’t realize there are really three wars in Sudan: one between the North and the South, one between the South and the rebels and one between the government and the rebels. The rebels want to divide Sudan — every region wants autonomy and nobody knows how to go about doing that,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity for the safety of her family abroad.
There has been much speculation regarding whether the Darfur crisis is the sole root of these kidnappings. Some have blames rebels from the old North-South war that ended in 2005 as a primary cause.
“JEM rebels were responsible for a previous kidnap, so the finger pointing and JEM’s previous involvement suggest that this may have to do more with Darfur than the North-South conflict,” Kreps stated. “But a separate account pointed to a rebel group associated with the North-South, their motive being the sentiment that they had not been adequately rewarded for supporting the government in that 21-year civil war.”
While the kidnappers have yet to be identified, Kreps speculated about possible motives behind the attack.
“The attacks are clearly intended to drive out what the rebels see as foreign occupiers of their territory,” Kreps stated. “So far, however, the effect seems to be limited, in part because China’s appetite for foreign oil gives it a strong motivation for staying. [So far,] the response has been simply to augment security measures and thus treat the symptom — the attacks — rather than the cause — the sense that China is somehow an ‘occupying’ presence in Sudan exploiting its natural resources.”
The Sudanese citizen elaborated on these sentiments.
“The oil is a relatively new discovery, and everyone is fighting over it. In my opinion, they should stop digging until all this is settled,” she said. “The whole country should be able to benefit from the oil wealth, not just foreign investors.”
Kreps stated that an antidote might be hard to come by for this rash of Sudanese aggression towards Chinese investors.
“As long as China is desperate for oil and Sudan is desperate for weapons — and investment for more weapons — then the arrangement will be profitable for both parties,” Kreps stated. “And as long as the Sudanese see China as approximating a foreign occupier exploiting its resources, we might expect to see China continue to be a target of attacks.”