Deaths of U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur prompt outrage

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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “outraged” to learn of the killing of seven Tanzanian peacekeepers in an ambush in Sudan’s Darfur region, his spokesman said Saturday.

Ban condemned the “heinous attack on UNAMID,” near Nyala in South Darfur, adding that he “expects that the government of Sudan will take swift action to bring the perpetrators to justice,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Seven Tanzanian peacekeepers were killed during an ambush Saturday in Sudan’s Darfur region, the African Union-U.N. Mission said, the worst-ever losses in the five-year history of the operation.

The attack near the peacekeepers’ base at Manawashi, north of the South Darfur state capital Nyala, adds to deteriorating security in Sudan’s far-west region.

Seven peacekeepers were killed and 17 were injured,” UNAMID’s acting spokesman Christopher Cycmanick told AFP. A later U.N. statement identified them as Tanzanians.

The ambush occurred about 25 kilometers (16 miles) west of another UNAMID base at Khor Abeche, Cycmanick said.

“The UNAMID team came under heavy fire from a large unidentified group. Following an extended firefight, the patrol was extracted by UNAMID reinforcements”, a statement said.

It added that the attack began at 9:00 am (0600 GMT) and the wounded included two female police advisors. Such advisors are typically unarmed.

Rebel group blames government militia

A rebel group in Sudan’s Darfur region accused government-linked militia on Sunday of carrying out the ambush.

“We don’t have any doubt that the act was done by government militia, because militia are deployed in Khor Abeche area,” Abdullah Moursal, spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Army’s Minni Minnawi faction, told AFP.

“This area is completely under government control.”

The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur said the ambush by “a large unidentified group” struck on Saturday about 25 kilometres (16 miles) west of a UNAMID base at Khor Abeche, north of the South Darfur state capital Nyala.

In addition to the seven dead Tanzanian peacekeeping troops, 17 other military and police personnel were wounded in the attack, the worst in the five-year history of UNAMID.

Rebels have been fighting the government for a decade in Darfur but UNAMID says that clashes between rival tribal and ethnic groups have been responsible for most of the worsening unrest in Darfur this year.

U.N. experts, human rights activists and tribal leaders have accused government security forces of involvement in this year’s tribal fighting.

About 50 UNAMID members have now died in hostile action since the mission began in late 2007. Before Saturday’s attack, six peacekeepers had been killed in Darfur since October.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called the latest attack “reprehensible” and said Ottawa “is deeply concerned by the deteriorating security conditions in Darfur and across Sudan”.

An estimated 300,000 people have been displaced by violence in Darfur this year -- more than in the last two years combined.

In April, a Nigerian peacekeeper was killed and two others wounded in an assault on their base east of Nyala.

The authorities denied suggestions from local sources that the attack appeared to have been planned and carried out by government-linked forces.

A U.N. panel of experts earlier this year reported that former pro-government militiamen had sometimes expressed their discontent with the current government through “direct attacks on UNAMID staff and premises”.

The Minnawi faction and other key rebel groups in Darfur refused to sign an internationally-backed peace deal signed two years ago between Khartoum and an alliance of rebel splinter factions.

A humanitarian source expressed doubt that rebels would have carried out the attack on UNAMID.

“When people are killed, probably it’s more militia,” he said, asking for anonymity.

UNAMID released few details of the ambush but said the patrol came under “heavy fire”, leading to an extended firefight until peacekeeping reinforcements arrived to rescue the team.

Last October, unidentified attackers fired mortars, machineguns, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank guns in an ambush which killed a South African peacekeeper and wounded three others in North Darfur.

UNAMID said at the time that that attack may have been a deliberate attempt to prevent the mission from assessing the situation in an area where violence had been reported.

UNAMID, with about 20,000 military and police peacekeepers, is one of the largest such missions in the world, and has a mandate to protect civilians.