Darfur police unit attacked
A Togolese police unit serving with the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) has come under a surprise attack sending shock waves through the peacekeeping operation.
The New Times has exclusively learnt that the Formed Police Unit (FPU) from Togo was early this week attacked by unidentified gunmen while on a routine patrol in West Darfur.
The attack on peacekeepers left four policemen wounded, one of whom subsequently died as a result of wounds sustained in the attack.
The New Times has established that a team of 32 officers had been patrolling in an internally displaced persons camp and were returning to their base camp when men armed with AK-47 rifles attacked them. In the ensuing clash, which also involved an UNAMID rescue unit, two other peacekeepers were wounded.
Both the Security Council and the African Union have reacted angrily to the attack.
“The members of the Security Council expressed their condolences to the family of the peacekeeper killed in the attack, as well as to the Government of Togo,” Ambassador Susan Rice of the United States, which holds the Council’s presidency this month, said in a statement.
“We call on the Government of Sudan to bring the perpetrators to justice and stressed that there must be an end to impunity for those who attack peacekeepers,” she added .
The Council has reiterated its support for UNAMID and called on all parties in Darfur to co-operate with the AU-UN mission.
Following a briefing on the situation on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, members of the Council also called for an immediate ceasefire and a return to negotiations for the two countries.
The briefing stated that at least 16 civilians have been killed and 34 injured in Unity State, in South Sudan, as a result of aerial bombardments by Sudan.
South Sudan became independent from Sudan in July last year, six years after the signing of the peace agreement that ended decades of warfare between the north and the south. However, the peace between the two countries has been threatened recently by clashes along their common border and outstanding post-independence issues that have yet to be resolved.
South Sudanese forces had moved into the oil-producing region of Heglig in Sudan’s South Kordofan state before departing recently, and Sudanese forces had engaged in the bombardment of South Sudanese territory, with the latest having occurred in Bentiu town in Unity state.
The Security Council has asked both Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) to engage in a political solution to the problems in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, as well as the need for urgent humanitarian assistance there.
The two Sudanese states, which lie on the border between the two countries, have been beset by fighting between Sudanese forces and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) since last year. The SPLM-N was previously part of the rebel movement that fought for the independence of South Sudan.
The attacks bring to fore in a dramatic manner the heightened rebel activity in the wake of the hostilities between Sudan and South Sudan. Just two days ago the Joint Special Representative for UNAMID, Nigerian diplomat Ibrahim Gambari, raised the alarm over the activities of rebels in the troubled Darfur region.
“I Am deeply concerned that armed movements are seeking to destabilise Darfur. Such actions can undermine the precious peace for the long-suffering people of Darfur,” he said in his alert on the deteriorating situation in Sudan.
As it is, UNAMID is the first-ever joint UN-AU peacekeeping operation. It is the largest and most complex; bringing together a total of 19,555 military staff, 360 military observers and liaison officers (mediators) and about 6,432 police officers.
Its mandate is to protect civilians, and also to contribute to security for humanitarian assistance, ensure agreements are carried out, support a fair political system, contribute to the promotion of human rights and the law, and watch the situation along Sudan’s borders with Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR).
UNAMID enjoys the distinction of being the peacekeeping operation with the largest number of countries contributing both military and police officers.
It has military officers and mediators from Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, China, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Republic of Korea, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The police personnel are from Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada. Côte D’Ivoire, Egypt, Fiji, Gambia, , Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tajikstan, Tanzania, Togo, Turkey, Yemen and Zambia.
It has also suffered some of the worst fatalities inflicted on peacekeeping operations to date; losing 76 soldiers, 24 police officers and one military observer.
This recent attack is, however, not the first in recent months. In February this year rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) detained 58 UNMAID troops comprising 55 from Senegal and three policemen from Yemen, Rwanda and Ghana. They were later released unharmed.
Earlier on Tuesday, the UN refugee agency said that some 35,000 people have been displaced by the recent fighting near the border between Sudan and South Sudan, and new outbreaks of violence are putting refugees’ safety at risk.
People in border areas such as Heglig, Talodi and other parts of the state of South Kordofan, had been displaced by the fighting, and noted that escalating hostilities are raising concerns about refugees’ safety.
The UNHCR had registered an increase in the number of Sudanese refugees crossing the border, some of them seriously malnourished. In Yida, for example, more than 1,300 new arrivals were reported in the last four days, and average daily arrivals have tripled since February and March.
UNHCR has appealed to both governments to do their utmost to avoid displaced civilians being placed in harm’s way, and to avoid actions that could displace more people. Humanitarian agencies provide life-saving assistance to over 20,000 refugees in the region.