The South Sudan government has refused to pay a ransom of $1 million for two Indian oil engineers abducted by rebels last week and demanded their unconditional release.
South Sudan’s information minister Michael Makuei said the rebels had demanded the ransom from the oil company employing the Indians, which he named as the partly Chinese-owned DAR Petroleum, or the government.
“The government of South Sudan will not pay the ransom,” Makuei told journalists in Juba, calling for the unconditional release of the hostages.
The Transitional Government of National Unity said in a statement that it “is bound by international law and UN resolutions to counter terrorist financing. The government is not ready to pay a ransom that encourages terrorist acts.”
Makuei said the Indians are being held at an unknown location by the forces of former first vice president-turned-rebel leader, Riek Machar.
Petroleum minister Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth said the Indian government had told authorities in Juba that it would not get involved in the incident and would instead “leave it wholly to the South Sudanese government”.
There has been no official word so far on the abductions from the Indian government.
According to the South Sudan government, the Indians were abducted on March 8.
However, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) said it captured the engineers – identified as Ambross Edward and Muggy Vijaya Boopathy – on March 9 from an oilfield at Guelguk North in Upper Nile state after fierce fighting between rebel and government forces.
SPLA-IO spokesman William Gatjiath Deng claimed the Indians were working for the South Sudan government led by President Salva Kiir Mayardit. He said the Indians “refused to respect repeated warnings from the military command of the armed opposition”.
Petroleum minister Gatkuoth said security at various oilfields has been beefed up after the kidnappings. “We are deploying the army, national security services and police,” he said.
Rebels have also kidnapped eight locals working for the US charity Samaritan’s Purse from a village northeast of the capital Juba and are demanding aid deliveries as ransom, a military spokesman said on Monday.
A statement issued by the South Sudan government on Monday called for the condemnation of the kidnapping of the Indians and the “blacklisting” of Riek Machar.
“The Transitional Government of National Unity of the Republic of South Sudan has learnt with dismay the kidnapping of the two Indian nationals who were on their routine duty to the field when their car was stopped by outlaws and terrorist elements belonging to renegade Riek Machar, who is operating in Maiwut state,” the statement said, according to the Sudan Tribune news website.
“The Transitional Government of National Unity calls upon the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to condemn Riek Machar and his followers and blacklist them as a terrorist negative force. The IGAD should ensure the safety and unconditional release of the oil workers,” the statement added.
The IGAD is a regional body which helped broker the 2015 peace agreement in South Sudan.
Last week, the rebels had warned foreign workers to stop risking their lives in oil production sites. The rebels have also said they want to stop oil production till a peaceful solution is reached with the government.
The new oilfield in Guelguk North, located near the border with Sudan, is one of the main oil production areas.
Oil-rich South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, has been mired in civil war since President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, sacked his deputy Machar, a Nuer, in 2013. The fighting has forced 3 million people to flee their homes, split the country along ethnic lines and resulted in a famine in parts of South Sudan.