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South Africa’s ambassador in Sudan met the foreign minister in Khartoum yesterday to ask for consular access to the SA demining expert who was arrested somewhere in the border region between Sudan and South Sudan.
Ambassador Graham Maitland had late yesterday still not been granted access to Thabo Siavhe, from Pretoria, an employee of the state-owned demining company Denel-Mechem, to enable the government to investigate the circumstances of his arrest.
Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesman Clayson Mon-yela said the British and Norwegian embassies had also not been granted access to their nationals arrested with Siavhe and a South Sudanese driver at the weekend.
The government was investigating the circumstances of the arrests.
“Sudan has one version of the arrests and the company which employs Siavhe has another,” Monyela said.
Sudan’s ambassador to SA, Ali Yousif Alsharif, repeated his government’s allegations that Siavhe and the others had been arrested by Sudanese forces inside Sudanese territory, near the disputed town of Heglig.
Ashley Williams, senior executive director of Denel-Mechem, insists the four men were arrested well within South Sudanese territory, where they were demining a road for the UN. He said they had diplomatic immunity for this work.
Alsharif said it was impossible for them to have been arrested inside South Sudan as Sudanese ground forces had not crossed the international frontier into South Sudan.
“Of course they didn’t have official reason to be there, and so we are now investigating why they were there because that is a war zone. That is normal when you find foreigners in your country,” Alsharif said.
Sudanese government officials were quoted at the weekend as saying they believed the men were military advisers to South Sudan, which Williams firmly denied.
Alsharif said there was no reason to be concerned about the men’s welfare.
“I don’t see any problem. They are safe and well, and nothing will happen to them. Once the investigation has been completed, they will be handed over to their governments, unless they have done something wrong.
“If they strayed into Sudan by mistake, they will be released to their governments.”
Meanwhile, Monyela said SA’s High Commission in Nairobi was investigating media reports that another South African, Loedewyk Pietersen, 55, of Klerksdorp, had been shot dead on Friday in the autonomous Puntland region of Somalia by a fellow employee of a private security company, Puntland Maritime Police Force.
The company, reportedly formerly known as Sacacen International, is helping the Puntland government train its forces to fight pirates. It is not yet clear if Pietersen was shot deliberately or accidentally.