Sudan accuses Norwegian of spying

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UPDATED: A Norwegian aid worker described as an expert at clearing land mines remained in custody in Khartoum on Monday, after being arrested along with several other foreign colleagues by soldiers from Sudan over the weekend. Officials in Sudan have accused him and the others of being spies.

Officials at Norway’s foreign ministry in Oslo were on alert and awaiting more information Sunday afternoon, after John Sörbö was seized on Saturday near the disputed border between Sudan and South Sudan. Also seized, according to authorities in Sudan’s capital of Khartoum, were a British and a South African colleague plus a soldier from South Sudan.

Meeting on Monday
On Sunday night, Norway’s embassy in Khartoum could finally confirm to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that a meeting would be held on Monday among officials of all countries involved. By mid-day Monday, though, Norwegian diplomats had still been prevented from visiting Sörbö.

Sudan’s army claims Sörbö and the others are tied to the military and were in possession of military equipment. A Sudanese army officer claims they were examining damaged battle gear from recent fights between forces from Sudan and South Sudan.

One military spokesman in Sudan told wire service AFP that the seizures confirm that South Sudan is being supported by “foreign experts” in its “aggression” towards Sudan.

Officials for the army in South Sudan denied the claims, saying the foreign workers were driving a UN vehicle and had lost their way in the area when they were stopped by the Sudan forces. Authorities in Sudan have sought to hinder any UN operations aimed at ending the border conflict with South Sudan.

‘Great faith’ in a solution
Sörbö was working for Norsk Folkehjelp (Norwegian People’s Aid), which referred to him as “one of our most experienced mine clearance experts.” A spokesman for the organization said the group was working to clear mines on the South Sudan side of the disputed border.

Staff at the Norwegian Foreign Ministry were working with British and South African colleagues and the UN in efforts to meet with Sörbö and the others under arrest. “It’s important to be able to visit them in prison in Khartoum, both to get their version of what has happened and to check that they’re in good shape and have what they need,” Frode Andersen of the foreign ministry told NRK.  Norwegian officials hadn’t been told exactly where Sörbö and his colleagues were being held.

Norway’s ambassador to Sudan, however, said he had “great faith” that the conflict would be resolved. “It’s never nice when anyone lands in a situation like this with such serious charges that have come forward,” Ambassador Jens-Petter Kjemprud told NRK. “But we have great faith we will resolve this conflict.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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