A Swiss aid worker has been abducted in Sudan’s northern Darfur region, the Swiss authorities have confirmed. Reports say the woman, who has lived for years in the country and collaborated with the United Nations, was taken from her home on Saturday evening.
The Swiss foreign ministry spokesman confirmed the abduction on Sunday.
"The Foreign Ministry is aware of the case of a Swiss woman kidnapped in Darfur,” it told Reuters by email.
"Local representation is in contact with Sudanese authorities. Efforts to clarify the situation are in progress. Switzerland is calling for a rapid and unconditional release of the abducted person."
The ministry gave no further details. However, Marta Ruedas, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, confirmed to AFP that the Swiss woman had been abducted on Saturday evening by unidentified armed men near her home in the Agricultural Research Centre area of Al Fashir.
She said the woman was not a UN staff member, but had collaborated with the UN on several initiatives.
North Darfur's Deputy Governor Mohamed Birama told Reuters on Monday that the Sudanese authorities believe a criminal gang is responsible for her abduction.
The authorities have stepped up a search in and around the city of al-Fashir and believe the gang is seeking a ransom.
"We expect that she will be found very soon," he said.
The incident comes as Sudan prepares to extend a unilateral ceasefire with rebels until the end of December, state news agency SUNA reported on Sunday. This is just days after the United States lifted 20-year-old sanctions tied to progress on resolving ongoing conflicts.
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.
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.