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Kidnapping aid workers: part of Sudan's strategy?

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The strategy, he argues, is to punish the people of Darfur, a semiarid land along Sudan's western border with Chad, where mostly non-Arab rebels have been fighting the Arab-dominated government since 2003. That punishment, he says, is either "directly" with attacks by Russian-made bomber planes and government-sponsored janjaweed militia – accused of some of the worst atrocities in Darfur – or "indirectly, by cutting off a lifeline to them, which is medication and food."

Sudan's government denies any involvement in the kidnapping. Sudanese officials told the Associated Press Saturday that they will increase protection for aid groups operating in Darfur. But aid groups generally resist such armed protection, viewing it as a violation of their impartiality.

Darfur was home to the world's largest humanitarian operation until the government last week expelled 13 aid organizations from the country – a move that sparked criticism from the United Nations and the Western world. The expulsion followed this month's decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to charge Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with war crimes.

At a time when Sudan is lobbying to have the case against its president dropped and needs international support, why would one of Africa's most fragile countries choose the path of confrontation?

"The government was angry and chose the most vulnerable target," says one Western analyst who has studied Sudan for close to two decades.

It could also have been a way of proving that the government is still in control, despite the indictment.

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