Leaders condemn Darfur attack on peacekeepers

KHARTOUM - A rebel attack that killed at least 10 African Union (AU) troops at one of their army bases in Sudan’s Darfur region Saturday night has sparked international condemnation.

KHARTOUM - A rebel attack that killed at least 10 African Union (AU) troops at one of their army bases in Sudan’s Darfur region Saturday night has sparked international condemnation.

About 40 AU soldiers are missing and seven were badly injured in the raid, by heavily-armed men in 30 vehicles. The assault was launched on the Haskanita base in Darfur. It was the worst single attack on AU forces since the 7,000-strong mission was deployed in 2004.

However, Rwanda’s troops in the AU peacekeeping force were not attacked and are all safe, Military Spokesman Jill Rutaremara confirmed yesterday.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the killings, which were blamed on splinter factions, were “outrageous”.

Ban’s office issued a statement condemning the attack “in the strongest possible terms” and demanding those responsible “be held fully accountable.”

AU-UN Joint Special Representative Rodolphe Adada labelled the weekend raid a “wanton and unprovoked act... that breaks every convention and norm of international peacekeeping.”

A spokesman for the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) also condemned the attack, which he said was carried out by dissident commanders.

“They’re looking for equipment – vehicles and weapons ... They found the AU an easy target,” Ibrahim Jalil said.

Suleiman Jamous, a member of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) Unity faction which is one of two groups accused of the attack, said if his faction was involved it was a local decision, not ordered by the leadership.

“I have asked the leadership of SLA Unity to withdraw all the troops from the area, to where they can be under the direct control of the military command,” Jamous said.

“And I have asked them to investigate to find out who, if any, SLA Unity commanders were involved. They have attacked the mediators and I offer my condolences to the families of the AU soldiers,” the elder rebel who is not in Darfur said.

AU force commander Martin Luther Agwai said the mission was making contingency plans and reassessing security. But he said little more could be done without getting desperately needed additional equipment and troops into Darfur.

“We’ve come up with contingency plans, we have to improve,” Agwai, who took up his post only a few months ago, said.

After a long day evacuating all the bodies, injured and traumatised survivors, Agwai defended the AU force, whose mission was to stem the violence in Darfur.

International experts estimate 200,000 people have died in Darfur, with 2.5 million driven from their homes as mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing central government of neglect.  

The attack is likely to overshadow AU-U.N.-mediated talks due to begin in Libya on October 27. Mediators Salim Ahmed Salim and Jan Eliasson expressed “shock and dismay” at the attack.

“The Special Envoys urge all parties to the conflict to demonstrate a serious commitment to the peace process and to cease hostilities,” they said in a statement.

The attack preceded a visit of “elders” to Sudan, including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ex-U.S. President Jimmy Carter, veteran peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and womens and children’s rights advocate Graca Machel.

They were due to meet Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The trip to Darfur and southern Sudan is the group’s first public mission since its inception this year.

Commenting on the raid, Tutu said: “It just shows how desperate the situation is, how desperately we’ve got to find a peaceful solution so that incidents of that kind don’t happen.”

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