ALGIERS: Western governments voiced alarm over the fate of dozens of foreigners seized by Islamists at a gas plant in the Algerian desert after several hostages were killed in a dramatic rescue operation.
The Algerian military assault left several people killed or wounded but freed a large number of hostages, according to Communications Minister Mohamed Said, as special forces took control of a residential compound at the complex.
Hundreds of hostages were being held at the compound, part of the sprawling In Amenas site, after Islamist militants seized the gas plant on Wednesday purportedly to avenge a French-led offensive in Mali.
Algerian officials said soldiers were still surrounding the site's main gas facility, which was yet to be secured in the air and ground assault.
Algerian reports said nearly 600 local workers and four foreigners -- two from Britain, one from France and one from Kenya -- were freed during Thursday's operation.
One man from Northern Ireland escaped. According to his brother, Stephen McFaul fled when the convoy in which he was travelling came under fire from the army, and had earlier had explosives tied around his neck.
A total of 41 foreigners had been reported among the hostages. The huge plant employs workers from Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Norway and the United States among others, and there was widespread anxiety at the fast-moving developments.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who cancelled a key speech on European policy to monitor the crisis, described a very bad situation at the site near Algeria's border with Libya.
"Already we know of one (Briton) who has died," Cameron said. "It is a very dangerous, very uncertain, a very fluid situation, and I think we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility of bad news ahead."
Foreign governments said Algeria gave them no prior warning of the raid. A senior US official said Washington strongly encouraged the authorities to make the hostages' safety their top priority.
Japan's government also urged Algiers to protect the hostages, arguing that the army raid was regrettable and that there was no clear information emanating from the scene.
The kidnappers said 34 captives had died in the assault, but this was impossible to confirm. They told Mauritanian news agency ANI they would kill all the hostages if the Algerian forces succeed in entering the complex.
The site is run by British oil giant BP, Norway's Statoil and Algerian energy firm Sonatrach. Japanese construction company JGC said it had confirmed the safety of three out of its 17 Japanese staff, and one Filipino.
'The Uncatchable' mastermind
Veteran Islamist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a one-eyed Algerian jihadist with Al-Qaeda ties, has claimed responsibility for launching Wednesday's attack.
Belmokhtar, dubbed "The Uncatchable" by French intelligence and "Mister Marlboro" for his cigarette smuggling, was until recently one of the leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
But he was pushed out of the organisation towards the end of last year and set up a group called "Signatories in Blood". He has been blamed for previous abductions and the killings of both Algerians and foreigners.
The chief hostage taker on the ground, Abu al-Baraa, was reported killed in the Algerian operation by ANI, which often carries reliable reports from Al-Qaeda linked groups.
"We demand the Algerian army pull out from the area to allow negotiations," Abu al-Baraa had earlier told Al-Jazeera news channel.
But Algeria insisted it would not negotiate with terrorists.
The hostage drama dragged Algiers and Western powers into the Mali conflict, taking the spotlight off French and government troops battling the Islamists in control of the country's vast desert north.
The rebels have held the north since April last year and moved south into government-held territory last week, prompting France to intervene in its former West African colony before they could threaten roads to Mali's capital Bamako.
The UN special envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, said the French air and ground intervention in Mali was the only way to stop Islamists creating a terrorist safe haven in the heart of Africa.
In Brussels, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said EU countries may provide troops to help France.
On Thursday, more French troops poured into Mali, boosting their number to 1,400, Paris said. At full strength the force will reach 2,500 soldiers.
SYDNEY: People living in the tropics are likely to die more than seven years younger than those in other regions, according to the first findings of a global research project released Monday.
The State of the Tropics study, run by 13 institutions across 12 countries, reported that people living in the world's tropical zones in 2010 had an average life expectancy of 64.4 years.
This was 7.7 years less than those living in non-tropical areas, according to the broad-ranging research project, which was initiated by Australia's James Cook University (JCU).
Overall mortality in the region was affected by disease, conflict, poverty and food insecurity, the study said. Investment in social services, such as health and education, as well as access to water, sanitation and medical technology, were also important factors.
According to the report, Central and Southern Africa had the worst adult mortality rates, with 377 in every 1,000 people who live to 15 years old dying before they reach 60.
That compares with an average of 240 in every 1,000 across the tropics and 154 in every 1,000 for the rest of the world.
Australia has the largest tropical landmass among developed nations and JCU vice chancellor Sandra Harding said a citizen of the country's tropical north typically died two-and-a-half years earlier than one in the south.
The study estimates that all continents except Europe and Antarctica are partly in the tropics and 144 nations or territories are either fully or partly in the tropical region.
By 2050 about half the world is expected to live in the tropics -- a vast area encompassing swathes of Australia, South and Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Oceania.
Harding said the tropics were an increasingly critical region, being home to more than 40 per cent of the world's population and generating about 20 per cent of global economic output.
"However, the resources to sustain larger populations and economic growth are imposing ever-increasing pressures," said Harding.
"The idea of the tropics has geopolitical, economic and strategic importance," she added. "Sooner or later, we will have to take this seriously."
The report found that life expectancy in the tropics has increased in the past 60 years, with people living 22.8 years longer than in 1950.
Southeast Asia saw the biggest improvements in life expectancy in the 60 years to 2010, adding 26.7 years to the average lifespan, compared with a global average increase of 20.2 years in the same period.
Infant mortality in the tropics also decreased from 161 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1950 to 58 per 1,000 in 2010, though this is still much higher than the 33 per 1,000 rate in the rest of the world.
Institutions in Kenya, Ecuador, England, Thailand, Singapore, Costa Rica, Denmark, the United States, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Brazil are partners in the study, which will release its next installments on forests, marine life and economic output in 2013.
Indian ocean piracy a serious concern, says regional body
NEW DELHI -– Piracy is a serious concern in the Indian Ocean, posing a threat to maritime commerce and the safety of seafarers, the 12th Meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Indian Ocean Rim Association of Regional Cooperation (IORARC) highlighted.
Such a scenario, it said, makes insurance costlier and incurs extra costs to the shipping industry in the Indian Ocean Region.
“Weak governance and instability in parts of the region have contributed to its degeneration into transnational organised crime,” said the 20-member grouping in the communiqué released at the end of the meeting held in Gurgaon, a satellite town of the Delhi National Capital Region.
The geo-strategic importance of the Indian Ocean cannot be underestimated in world trade, particularly when 80 per cent of the world’s seaborne energy trade transits through this part of the globe, India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said.
As global economic growth shifts to Asia, it would occupy even greater salience in the member countries’ strategic perspective, he said at the end of the meeting.
Hence, stability and well-being of the Indian Ocean is critical for global economic prosperity, and even more so for the countries on its rim, he said.
Although there have been several useful regional and multilateral anti-piracy initiatives, the Indian Ocean Region and IORARC should consider ways of engaging with these where feasible and complementing each other’s efforts.
“We would like the IORARC seminar on maritime security scheduled for 2013 to consider concrete proposals for cooperation in the broad area, including institutionalisation of a regional mechanism for continuing exchange of views and monitoring of the situation,” said the communiqué entitled “IORARC at 15 – The Next Decade.”
It said IORARC offers a useful platform for exchanging information on white shipping, and developing legislative frameworks and sharing best practices in coastal security and regulation of fishing activities in coastal waters.
The grouping also called for further development of port and harbour infrastructure in the region. It directed the working group on trade and investment to explore the potential of cooperation in this sector, including investment in and upgrading of shipping infrastructure and logistics chains in the region.
The 15-year-old association accepted its 20th member, the Union of Comoros. Its other members are Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
The meeting also saw the inclusion of the United States as the sixth dialogue partner, joining China, Egypt, France, Japan and the United Kingdom. – BERNAMA
Home to around 600 million people, surging economies and a massive sporting fanbase, the group of nations stretching from Myanmar to Indonesia ought to be catching the eye at the world’s greatest sporting event.
Instead, there are few title contenders making the trip to London, as enduring poverty, threadbare facilities, skewed funding and a focus on non-Olympic sports strangle the pipeline of talent.
There are some bright spots: Malaysia boasts the world’s second ranked badminton player, Lee Chong-Wei, while Indonesia will look to maintain its record of a gold for its shuttlers at every Games since 1992.
Thailand offers a smattering of weightlifters; the Philippines, whose vaunted boxers are mainly chasing professional riches, has its hopes pinned to its shooters; and Singapore will send some strong swimmers and 2008 team table tennis silver medallist Feng Tianwei.
Yet among the 11 nations who contest the regional showpiece Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, there are no realistic medal prospects in the headline track and field events.
The statistics make grim reading — Southeast Asian nations harvested just a dozen medals combined in Beijing four years ago.
It was a paltry return given the region’s size, put further into context by the 13 podium places claimed by sporting minnow Kazakhstan.
“The risk is that sport in our region collapses,” warns Santiparb Tejavanija, an advisor to the Olympic Council of Asia.
“If we cannot nurture the best young people, we will be unable to compete in the long term. Each year that passes, another group of potential athletes disappears.”
The reasons for the poor harvest of talent are myriad, but experts say they pivot around mismanagement and corruption, illustrated by massive graft relating to construction projects at last year’s SEA Games in Indonesia.
Under-investment results in a lack of facilities, financing and top-level coaching, and short-changes athletes and the patriotic millions they represent, explains Santiparb.
There are also arguments that smaller physiques put would-be Southeast Asian stars at a disadvantage in many disciplines, such as the short distance track events.
But the bigger picture, according to Greg Wilson, an Australian advising the Indonesian Olympic Committee (KOI), is that a lack of ambition by poorly run sporting bodies means any funding goes to regional, not global, competition.
“The Olympics was not on the radar for many athletes even six months before the London Games,” he says, explaining that cash incentives are only offered to Indonesian athletes to prepare for the SEA Games and domestic competition.
“They don’t think they’ll make Olympic qualifications, so they look inward.”
Indonesian gold medallists were awarded $22,000 for mediocre success at the SEA Games rather than given incentives to reach the higher mark of qualifying for the Olympics, says Wilson.
Others lament a preoccupation with traditional sports which are virtually unknown outside the region, such as pencak silat and sepak takraw, and deflect resources from qualifying for the Games.
“We really need to change the mindset — we should focus only on favourable (Olympic) sports, instead of some random ones,” KOI chairwoman Rita Subowo recently told the Jakarta Post.
Santiparb is scathing about the situation, decrying the region’s sports fans for mistakenly going crazy for sports which they can’t even spell.
“And all the time the region continues to fall further behind,” adds the Thai.
His voice is one among a growing clamour for change as many weary of the region’s athletes playing rank underdogs on the global stage.
But the region’s sporting travails may prove insurmountable, at least in the short term.
Sport is a sideshow to survival in an area which, despite its fast pace of economic growth, remains desperately poor in many parts.
Bad healthcare and diet, high rates of smoking and the fact many people hold down several jobs preclude mass participation in sport, draining the pool of available talent.
At the same time there is a lack of the advanced sporting infrastructure enjoyed by similarly poor nations with a rich sporting history — such as the ex-Soviet bloc countries, or nations like Jamaica or Kenya.
However, the outlook is not entirely gloomy.
Indonesia (badminton) and Thailand (weightlifting) have shown success within particular disciplines can inspire young athletes and catalyse more funding, creating a conveyor belt of potential champions relatively quickly.
“London could be the watershed, where people finally say ‘hang on, why are we so far behind the rest of the world?’” adds Wilson.
Off the pristine beaches of Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, multinationals have struck gas — well upon well upon well.
Planned investments worth tens of billions exceed the gross domestic products of some host countries, which range from regional power Kenya to impoverished Mozambique.
East Africa’s coastal region, stretching out to Seychelles holds 441.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the US Geological Survey. That’s about 50 per cent more than in Saudi Arabia.
“The gas discoveries offshore in Mozambique and Tanzania are large and world-class, with potential for more to come, including prospects for an oil leg,” said Duncan Clarke, CEO of oil consulting company Global Pacific.
“These finds will lead to LNG (liquefied natural gas) plants … and will make the zone akin to the Northwest Shelf in Australia,” which can produce 23 billion cubic metres a year, he told AFP.
Houston-based Anadarko in June announced new finds in northern Mozambique which brought its estimated recoverable resources to up to 60 trillion cubic feet.
The company has proposed $15 billion in investments to set up LNG facilities. Mozambique’s GDP last year was $12 billion.
Thailand‘s PTT Exploration and Production in May announced a $1.9-billion deal to buy Cove Energy, whose 8.5-per cent stake in the Mozambican fields is currently up for sale.
Two weeks earlier Italy’s ENI, the other large operator in the country’s Rovuma basin, said recent discoveries boosted its recoverable resources up to 52 trillion cubic feet.
“It will bring a huge flow of foreign direct investment in the region that would contribute to rapid economic growth in the region,” said Silas Olang, east African coordinator from resources watchdog Revenue Watch Institute.
Mozambique expects that within five years, the new industry will account for 13 per cent of the economy, already one of the fastest-growing in the world at seven percent last year.
A number of hurdles stand between producers and their potential gas wealth.
“There’s very limited infrastructure in place,” said Tim Dodson, vice-president for exploration at Norway’s Statoil on the company website.
Statoil and Britain’s BG together have discovered around 16 trillion cubic feet in Tanzania.
Mozambique’s Pemba is a good example. The closest city for offshore drillers, it’s 3,000 kilometres north of the capital Maputo, with dirt roads and little housing. Elsewhere new ports and airports are needed.
Completely caught off-guard by its mineral wealth, the country also lacks the skilled workforce to set up industries, with only 50 mining graduates a year.
Both Mozambique and Tanzania have had to scurry to update petroleum legislation with the new industries.
Governments have also come under fire for signing opaque contracts for capital-intensive mega-projects that don’t create many local jobs.
Producers from their side are nervous over taxes as governments claim increasing cuts of the spoils. Mozambique announced it would tax the Cove sale at 12.8 per cent.
New producers may also jostle for energy buyers on the western edge of the Asian LNG import market and in competition with older supply centres in Southeast Asia and Australasia, said Clarke.
Questions remain how locals will benefit from the multi-billion-dollar industries. While Mozambique is booming, last year its economy created only $400 per person.
Corruption is a big challenge, said Olang.
With production only planned for five years from now, the effect may also take longer than people think, he said.
“There could be the expectation that natural gas will be exploited tomorrow and we’ll benefit immediately.”
The surveillance is carried out by small, unmarked turboprop planes with hidden state-of-the-art sensors that fly thousands of miles between air bases and bush landing strips across the vast continent, it said.
The programme, dating back to 2007, underscores the massive expansion of US special forces operations in recent years and the steady militarisation of intelligence operations during the decade-long war on Al-Qaeda.
Bases in Burkina Faso and Mauritania are used to spy on Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), while bases in Uganda are used in the hunt for the Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal guerrilla movement led by Joseph Kony, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
The Post said there were plans to open another base in South Sudan to help hunt for Kony, who is wanted in connection with a series of atrocities and operates in some of the most remote and inaccessible parts of central Africa.
In East Africa, US aircraft operating out of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Seychelles archipelago spy on Somalia’s Qaeda-inspired Al-Shebab militia and have reportedly launched attacks on wanted militants.
The Post said the fleet of surveillance planes is made up of single-engine Pilatus PC-12s, small passenger and cargo planes manufactured in Switzerland.
The newspaper said one of the secret bases is in a secluded hanger in Ouagadougou, capital of the predominantly Muslim country of Burkina Faso in West Africa.
It said dozens of service members and contractors strive to be discreet, but stand out in the city centre and are appreciated for the business they bring to bars and restaurants.
Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole, in an interview with the Post, declined to answer questions about US special forces operations in his country but said he appreciates US security cooperation.
“We need to fight and protect our borders,” the Post quoted him as saying. “Once they infiltrate your country, it’s very, very difficult to get them out,” he said, referring to Al-Qaeda.
“But the shaking became stronger and stronger,” said 15-year-old student Zikra Latasha of Wednesday’s 8.6 magnitude undersea quake off Sumatra.
“For five minutes, the trees swayed, the cars jerked back and forth and the glass windows rattled. We knew this was a big one and that we must get out.”
They knew the drill by heart: that when an earthquake strikes they should never panic, and concentrate on moving to an open area or higher ground.
From the compound, the school headmaster bellowed into a bullhorn, ordering students to follow the red-and-blue arrows painted on the walls, guiding them to an open field more than a half mile away.
Chanting “Subhanallah” (Glory to God), they grabbed their bags and trooped out of their classrooms as they came to realise that a giant quake — the biggest since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 170,000 in the province alone — had just struck.
Wednesday’s quake was felt as far afield as Thailand while India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, the Reunion Island, Sri Lanka and Myanmar also issued alerts or evacuation orders.
It was followed by another powerful aftershock, triggering another Indian Ocean-wide tsunami alert, but the threat eventually subsided and damage was minimal.
“Nobody shoved and pushed — we did what we had learned during disaster drills,” said Rumiana, a 52-year-old maths teacher who goes by one name.
“But the stress was too much to handle — students were crying, calling out for their parents, clinging to my dress. A few students had difficulty breathing and one even fainted,” she added.
Her colleague, chemistry teacher Zahratus Safara, 50, said they held hands and huddled together to stay calm.
In the more than seven years since the 2004 tsunami, which devastated the province, Indonesia has invested heavily in an early warning system, quake-resistant buildings and disaster mitigation measures.
Jeumpa Puteh is one of the nearly 30 disaster-prepared schools in the province that has undergone disaster management training under a programme by Aceh’s Tsunami Disaster Mitigation Research Centre (TDMRC).
School staff and students have received first aid lessons and regularly conduct mock drills to test their
In the Blang Oi elementary school, where only six teachers and students survived the big tsunami of 2004, staying safe is a simple exercise.
“If there’s a quake cover your head/ If there’s a quake go under the desk/ If there’s a quake avoid windows / If there’s a quake run to an open space”, the 12-year-olds merrily sang during a recent quake-simulation drill.
When the alarm sounded, they covered their heads with books and schoolbags and briskly walked out of their classrooms in single file.
After Wednesday’s quakes, in which five people died of heart attack and shock, Acehnese expressed greater confidence in coping with such disasters than they did eight years ago.
TDMRC coordinator Faisal Ilyas said Wednesday’s quakes proved to be a key test of its disaster-preparedness programmes, especially in schools.
“The schools have passed with flying colours. Thousands of teachers and students evacuated according to procedures,” he added.
“However, we must not be content and continue to expand our programme to more schools. We must remember this is not the last earthquake,” Ilyas said.
Many in the deeply-religious province attribute their safety to divine providence.
“I was afraid that the ground would crack open and swallow me up. I was also afraid everyone would die and leave me on my own,” said Koni Armandani, a 15-year-old student.
“We can do all we can but at the end of the day, everything is God’s will.”
More Ugandan women trafficked for sex overseas
KAMPALA: Sitting at a table in a run-down bar on the edge of this Ugandan capital, Stella Kobusingye stares into the distance as she recalls the tangle of lies and deceit that led to her sex-slavery ordeal.
Struggling to support her young son and sickly mother with the income from a small shop, last year Kobusingye heard about a job opportunity earning $800 a month working at a Ugandan-owned boutique in Malaysia.
After double- and then triple-checking that the job seemed genuine, Kobusingye sold her shop, paid for a passport and bought a visa for China, where middlemen told her she needed transit, before being handed a ticket and boarding a plane.
But when she arrived in China, she was met by a Ugandan woman, taken to a hotel where scores of other Ugandan girls were staying and told she now owed $7,000 for the airfare.
“There were no jobs there, they had lied to me — the only thing they had taken me there for was prostitution,” Kobusingye, who asked for her name to be changed, told AFP.
That night, a Nigerian man knocked on the door and said he had paid to have sex with her. Kept prisoner in her hotel room and with her passport taken away, for the next few weeks Kobusingye was forced — sometimes brutally — to sleep with up to five Nigerian men each night.
To scare her into silence, Kobusingye says her captors took her to a Ugandan witchdoctor there who used her fingernails and pubic hair to perform rituals.
Kobusingye’s story is typical of a growing number of young and vulnerable Ugandan women whom officials say are being duped into travelling abroad — particularly to countries in the Far East and Middle East — and then forced into prostitution.
In a country with massive unemployment, posters in shopping malls around Kampala advertise opportunities for well-paying jobs or studies abroad.
It is almost impossible to say how many Ugandan girls have been trafficked abroad but officials estimate in Malaysia alone — a country with visa-free travel for Ugandans and growing economic ties — there are currently about 600 Ugandan women in forced prostitution.
There are no figures available for the number of trafficked women in China.
During a recent visit to Kampala, Hajah Noraihan, a Malaysian working as Uganda’s honorary consul in Kuala Lumpur, flicked through a series of horrifying pictures to show what happens to the girls who refuse — the face of a young woman thrown from a third-floor balcony, the body of another brutally murdered on a bedroom floor.
‘We need to see action on this’
In the past two years, at least three Ugandan girls have been killed in Malaysia, she said.
Since late last year, Malaysian police have cracked down on the prostitution rings. In a single raid in October, 21 Ugandan women were discovered at just one location and there are around 60 currently being detained by Malaysian authorities.
With the help of the International Organisation for Migration, in the past five months 14 girls have been brought back to Uganda, Noraihan says.
Now Noraihan, a native of Kuala Lumpur, is pressing authorities in Uganda to deal with the problem at its source.
“We really need to see action on this, not just talk, not just reports. We need to see action on it and now,” she says.
That pressure seems to be paying off.
Although several of those suspected of trafficking girls to Malaysia have already been arrested, critics say authorities have been sluggish or too poorly funded and trained to effectively crack down on those behind the rings.
Now though, officials from the immigration department to law enforcement agencies and presidential advisers have started meeting on the issue and a group of law-makers is pushing to visit Malaysia to investigate further.
But public awareness of the threat remains perilously low and the trafficking rings are highly organised and increasingly sophisticated, said Asan Kasingye, director of the Interpol office in Kampala.
“The criminals, these international rings, they are also working against us. Instead of taking 10 girls, they might take one a week and if you go to the airport and there is a person going to Malaysia she will have documents saying she is going for studies,” Kasingye said.
Uganda is just one of many sub-Saharan countries affected by sex trafficking. Other countries affected include South Africa, Nigeria, Malawi, Cape Verde, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Zambia.
Trafficking victim Kobusingye may finally be back home but she will never escape the effects of what happened to her.
After attempting to find a way to flee China, Kobusingye’s captors sent her to Malaysia, where they thought it would be easier to keep her.
But at Kuala Lumpur airport, immigration officials stopped Kobusingye. During several months in detention there she had a miscarriage.
Then she was told she had been infected with HIV.
Kobusingye was eventually sent back to Uganda with assistance from the International Organisation for Migration and the Malaysian consul. Now she is trying to rebuild her life and start up a second-hand clothes shop.
Antiretroviral drugs are free in Uganda, but the potential stigma of her enslavement weighs heavy on the young woman, who has not even told her own mother about what really happened while she was abroad.
While Kobusingye knows she cannot undo the past, she says she’s praying those responsible are brought to justice.
“I want to get those people and take them to prison at least for the rest of their lives because right now I am sick but I have to take care of my kid, I have to take care of my mum,” she says.
Abductions highlight danger to China’s workers in Africa
BEIJING: Abductions in Sudan and Egypt highlight the dangers facing China’s workers abroad and led Beijing to reassess a long-stated policy of non-interference as its foreign interests grow, analysts say.
China has been sending workers to Africa since the 1950s to build roads and railways, but investment has surged in the past 15 years as the Asian powerhouse sought to secure the resources it needs to fuel its booming economy.
Trade between Africa and China topped $120 billion last year, a jump from less than $20 billion a decade earlier, and experts say China’s interests on the continent are shifting to investing in institutions and governments.
Jonathan Holslag, a researcher at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary Chinese Studies, said the presence of Chinese workers in some of the world’s most unstable areas was making them a target for criminals.
“Armed gangs increasingly consider Chinese labourers an easy target for ransom,” said Holslag. “Especially in Africa, China’s growing economic presence has stumbled into growing insecurity.”
He made the comments after the abduction late last month of 29 Chinese workers by rebels in Sudan’s South Kordofan state.
That was followed on Tuesday by the capture of 25 Chinese workers in Egypt by Bedouins demanding the release of relatives imprisoned by the fallen regime of Hosni Mubarak. The Chinese were soon freed.
Chinese workers have been killed in Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria, while others have had to be evacuated when violence has broken out.
Last year, China conducted its biggest and most expensive rescue mission when it evacuated 36,000 of its nationals from Libya, where it has substantial oil interests, as the country descended into civil war.
The violence led to heavy losses for Chinese businesses, which had around $18.8 billion worth of contracts in Libya.
Even in times of peace, there are often tensions between Chinese companies and local people angered by the influx of Chinese workers and allegations that the firms mistreat locally hired staff.
In Zambia, such allegations of mistreatment became one of the campaign themes of Michael Sata, who was elected president in September.
Chinese workers have also been the victims of Beijing’s support for regimes shunned by the rest of the international community.
Experts say rebel groups have sought to punish China, whose proclaimed policy of non-interference in the affairs of other countries has led to accusations it props up unsavoury governments.
But Christopher Alden, a specialist in Sino-African affairs at the London School of Economics, said Beijing had been increasingly willing to step in as it seeks to protect its overseas interests.
“They hold to the principle (of non-interference) rhetorically and they will continue to do so, but their actions for the last four or five years have indicated they are willing to bend the principle for a variety of reasons,” he told AFP.
In the past, China has sometimes turned to international or regional organisations, working with the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2007 to negotiate the freeing of seven hostages held in Ethiopia.
It has also sought to limit risks by building alliances in the regions where it invests, for example cultivating good relations with the new government of oil-rich South Sudan as well as with Khartoum.
But if that fails, as it did in Libya, they must take on the task themselves, according to Jonas Parello-Plesner, researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
After the latest abductions, many Chinese people took to microblogs to demand action and experts say the government needs to demonstrate that it is looking after China’s interests abroad.
“A honeymoon decade of frictionless business expansion worldwide is over,” Parello-Plesner wrote in the Financial Times.
PARIS: A handicapped Frenchwoman who was kidnapped from her beachfront home at a Kenyan resort island and taken to neighbouring Somalia has died, France said on Wednesday.
“The contacts through which the French government was seeking to obtain the release of Marie Dedieu, held in Somalia since October 1, have announced her death, but we have not been able to determine the date nor the circumstances,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Mrs Dedieu’s state of health, uncertainty over the conditions of her detention and the fact that the kidnappers probably refused to give her the medication that we sent her lead us to believe that this tragic outcome is unfortunately the most likely,” the ministry said.
A gang of 10 armed men seized Dedieu, 66, from Manda Island in Kenya’s Lamu archipelago earlier this month and fled by sea to Somalia, fighting off an attempt by Kenya’s navy to stop them.
There had been serious concern over the health of Dedieu, who was wheelchair-bound after an accident several years ago and required medication every few hours.
The ministry said it had informed Dedieu’s family of her death and was demanding the unconditional return of her remains.
“The French government expresses its profound shock, great sadness and solidarity with the family and loved ones of Marie Dedieu,” it said.
“It also expresses its indignation at the cruelty and complete absence of humanity shown by our compatriot’s abductors, whom we want to see identified and brought to justice.”
Kenyan officials said they suspected Somali Islamist Shebab insurgents had carried out the abduction, but sources in Somalia dismissed the theory.
Dedieu had lived for 15 years in the Lamu archipelago, off Kenya’s northern coast.
Her kidnap was the second in the area in less than a month and dealt a further blow to Kenya’s tourist trade after France and Britain warned travellers to avoid the Kenyan coastline near Somalia.
A British tourist, Judith Tebbutt, was seized to the north of Lamu and taken to Somalia on September 11 by an armed gang who killed her husband. She is believed to have been sold to pirates now holding her in central Somalia.