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UN Chief Calls for Release of Kidnapped Aid Workers in Sudan

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is deeply concerned over the abductions of three aid workers in Sudan and is calling for their immediate release without harm.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said protection of aid workers is ultimately the responsibility of the host government - in this case Sudan - and he called the abductions in Darfur late Wednesday of three staff members from the Belgium branch of Doctors Without Borders deeply concerning.

"The staff were taken from their office by unknown armed men," Mr. Ban said. "I am deeply concerned by this development. Together with, again, an attack against U.N. peacekeepers a few days ago. Security incidents and deliberate attacks on the United Nations and aid community over the past weeks and months in Darfur have increased markedly."

Last week Sudan ordered 13 of the largest aid groups out of the country following the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant for the country's president, Omar al-Bashir, on war crimes charges.

The U.N. chief again called for Sudan to reverse its decision to expel the aid groups, which together account for at least half of the humanitarian capacity in Darfur, where nearly five million people are dependent on assistance.

Khartoum accuses the groups of giving information to the International Criminal Court.

"I do not agree to what they have been accusing that these NGOs have been creating or making negative activities," Mr. Ban said.

Mr. Ban also said he has spoken with China's foreign minister about using his government's influence with Khartoum to influence' President Bashir. Beijing has extensive commercial interests in Sudan and has close relations with Khartoum.

He said he also discussed the situation with President Barack Obama during a White House meeting Tuesday.

The U.N. chief urged Sudan to respect its commitments to aid workers and the United Nations, as well as to address issues of peace and justice. He said the United Nations would continue its peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in Sudan despite recent developments.