10/30/2008, 00.00
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Beijing gets directly involved in negotiations for the release of kidnapped Chinese workers

After four abducted Chinese die and three are wounded, China sends a team of experts to negotiate the release of the two workers who are still in rebel hands. The killing is the worst violent act China has had to face in its world-wide strategy to secure access to raw materials and energy.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A team of Chinese experts arrived in Sudan today to “negotiate with the Sudanese side on all-out efforts” to secure the release of two Chinese oil workers who are still in rebel hands.

The move appears to be an attempt by Beijing to bolster control of a standoff that went badly wrong on Monday, when four kidnapped Chinese oil workers (pictured) died in a clash between their captors and Sudanese forces. Three more workers were freed and are now in hospital.

Circumstances about the killing remain foggy. China has said the four were killed during a botched rescue attempt whilst the Sudanese government said the kidnapers killed the hostages after being spooked by a surveillance plane.

There is also confusion about who is behind the crime. Sudanese officials blamed the Darfur rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). But that group has denied any involvement.

China, which has been a key Sudanese ally in terms of trade, arms supplies and international diplomatic protection, appears critical of the way Khartoum has handled the situation.

The nine workers from the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) were kidnapped from an oil field near the western Sudanese region of Darfur on 18 October; the area is being developed by a consortium, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, which includes the CNPC.

For analysts the deaths are one of the most violent acts China has had to face in recent years as its business interests expand worldwide in a quest for energy and other raw materials.

Foreign Ministry officials in Beijing said there will be new measures to protect Chinese interests in Sudan.

For years China has been criticised for the way it exploits African raw materials without any concern for the way corrupt African governments rather than local population benefit from the money.

The People’s Republic buys about two thirds of Sudan’s oil but has come in for criticism because it has done nothing to stop the genocide in Darfur (more than 300,000 dead since 2003 and 2.5 million displaced people according to UN figures), an event that has instead mobilised the international community. For China the whole issue is a “domestic problem”, which has not stopped Beijing from selling weapons to the Sudanese government used in Darfur.

In its defence Beijing has said that its involvement helps the economic development of the country and benefits the population.

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