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Gunmen kidnap French aid worker in Darfur

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October 22, 2009 01:00 PM EST | AP

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KHARTOUM, Sudan — Gunmen kidnapped a French staff member working for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sudan's western Darfur region on Thursday, the group said.

The men abducted Gauthier Lefevre just outside the West Darfur capital of al-Geneina as he was returning from a trip to help local communities upgrade their water supply systems, the group said in a statement posted on its Web site. The identities and motives of the kidnappers are unknown.

"The ICRC is calling for the rapid and unconditional release of its kidnapped staff member," it said.

The Darfur conflict began in February 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in Khartoum, claiming discrimination and neglect. U.N. officials say the war has claimed at least 300,000 lives from violence, disease and displacement.

The Obama administration, after months of fierce internal debate, outlined a new approach to settling the Darfur conflict earlier this week. The new policy rests on offering incentives for the Sudanese government to end the violence and threatening stronger pressures if it does not.