KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) _ Southern rebels have kidnapped seven people working with the International Committee of the Red Cross, Sudan's foreign minister said Friday.

The relief workers were kidnapped a week ago near the town of Bentiu, 500 miles south of Khartoum, Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail told reporters.

He said the government did not announce the kidnapping earlier because it wanted to give the ICRC the chance to free them.

``But nothing happened even after the event went on unmentioned for seven days now,'' he said.

No rebel group has claimed responsibility for the abduction and no ransom demands have been made public. The ICRC did not immediately confirm the report, which could not be verified independently.

``The seven are Westerners and Sudanese working with the ICRC and under the ICRC flag when they were abducted,'' Ismail said. ``We urge the United Nations and the world community to exert pressure on the rebels to release those civilians,'' he said.

He gave no further details.

The town where the kidnapping reportedly took place is near the area where government forces are fighting the Sudan People's Liberation Army, which has been waging a war since 1983 for autonomy and development in the predominantly Christian, African and animist south.

The southerners resent the traditional dominance by the Arab-led and Muslim-dominated north. An estimated 1.9 million people have died in the fighting and related famines.

Ismail warned that the government will no longer extend a temporary cease-fire signed with the rebels in January to ease relief operations in the south. The cease-fire expires in April.

This was the second time that the rebels have targeted relief workers.

In June, armed assailants opened fire on a U.N. relief convoy in southern Sudan, killing three officials, all Sudanese, working with the U.N.'s World Food Program and the ICRC.