Khartoum, Sudan : Margaret Schenkel, a Swiss aid worker who was kidnapped from her home in Darfur, Sudan on October 7th, has been freed in an overnight operation by Sudanese security forces, Sudanese and Swiss officials reported Wednesday. Margaret Schenkel is known for her long-term humanitarian work with malnourished children in Sudan’s Darfur during her stay in El Fasher.
Reports say the woman, who has lived for years in the country and collaborated with the United Nations on several initiatives, though not a UN staff member.
The abduction of Margaret Schankel was the first such reported incident in Darfur since the United Nations began scaling back its peacekeeping force in the region earlier this year.
Her release comes as the UN Security Council meets on Wednesday to assess the downsizing of the peacekeeping mission in Darfur.
“Agents of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services carried out an overnight operation and freed the Swiss aid worker from near Kutum” in North Darfur state, its deputy governor Mohamed Barima told AFP.
The Swiss authorities confirmed the release of Schankel who was brought to Khartoum later on Wednesday.
“I would like to thank the government of Sudan, all authorities especially also those who conducted investigations and the operations for the successful release of Ms Schankel,” Swiss ambassador to Khartoum, Daniel Cavegn, told reporters at Khartoum airport.
The Sudanese authorities did not say who had abducted the aid worker.
Aid workers in Darfur have regularly expressed concerns about their safety following the decision to downsize UN forces in the region.
Peacekeeping troops often escort humanitarian staff to remote areas.
The UN force was deployed after the conflict in Darfur began in 2003 when mainly non-Arab tribes, who felt marginalised, took up arms against Sudan’s Arab-led government. The conflict has left nearly 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million people displaced, according to the UN. They accused Khartoum of marginalising the Darfur region economically and politically.
At the end of June, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that should reduce the number of joint UN-African Union peacekeepers in Darfur (UNAMID) by 30% due to reduced conflict levels. Human rights organizations have expressed concerns about the decision.
In July, a UN official said that UNAMID, a joint African Union and United Nations peacekeeping force, would reduce the number of its troops in the region, citing a fall in violence.
Most of the displaced live in camps, after escaping fighting between government forces and rebels.
The latest abduction adds to an already lengthy list of foreign and Sudanese aid workers who have been kidnapped in the region in recent years.
Last year, three UN refugee agency workers were abducted by armed men in West Darfur state. The workers, two Nepalese and a Sudanese, were later released.