KIGALI - Countries and several international organisations have expressed anger over the recent attacks on the AU/UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) which claimed seven peacekeepers, five of them members of the RDF.
The peacekeepers were killed last Wednesday when a convoy they were escorting was ambushed in Shangiya Tobaya, 40km south of El-Fasher in the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur.
Two police officers from Ghana and Uganda were also killed, while 22 others were injured, seven of them critically. The peacekeepers were part of a protection force that was escorting UNAMID observers which fell into the ambush of heavily armed men with over 40 vehicles mounted with heavy calibre anti-aircraft and recoilless weapons.
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs David Emerson he said thus in a statement: “Canada condemns, in the strongest terms, the recent attack against the peacekeepers, which has resulted in several deaths. The targeting of personnel serving in Darfur in the name of peace is completely unacceptable. All the armed groups that are party to the conflict in Darfur must put an immediate end to these terrible acts of violence.”
Emerson also sent his condolences to the families of the peacekeepers who lost their lives, to Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and to Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the UN. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also expressed his condemnation through his spokeswoman, Michele Montas.
“The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms this unacceptable act of extreme violence against UN-AU peacekeepers in Darfur and calls on the government of Sudan to ensure that perpetrators are swiftly identified and brought to justice,” said Montas in a statement.
The African Union condemned the ambush by Darfur militiamen saying that it was a criminal act, which would not deter peace organisations from their work.
“This criminal attack will not affect the determination and commitment of the AU and the UN in bringing about lasting peace and alleviating the suffering of the civilian population in Darfur,” the African Union said in a statement.
Ugandan Ambassador to Rwanda Richard Kabonero also condemned the attacks, and sent his condolences to the families of the deceased and the government of Rwanda.
Speaking to The New Times yesterday, Kabonero said: “It is absurd that the attacks happened but it should not discourage the peacekeepers from doing their job.” He also blamed the UN for not fully equipping the peacekeeping mission in Darfur.
“The peacekeeping forces in Darfur need a more robust mandate, and the UN needs to provide the troops with standard equipment for self-defence and protection. We should not expect such a blow again,” said Kabonero.
This tallies with what RDF spokesman Major Jill Rutaremara told The New Times, and existing concerns by many observers, including the UN, that peacekeepers needed more and better equipment.
Rutaremara added that despite the tragedy, the RDF would continue with their mission and that the mission in Darfur would be marked with ‘more vigilance and self-defence’.
Sudan says it was responsible
In a twisted turn of events, Sudan has admitted that its forces were involved in the attack on peacekeepers in the troubled Darfur region.
UN peacekeeping chief Jean Marie Guehenno has told the UN Security Council that a local Sudanese army commander on the ground had contacted the UN and claimed responsibility for the attack on a supply convoy.
Sudan’s UN Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Mohamad had earlier denied responsibility, saying that rebels and their supporters had the most to gain from such an attack. But the Sudanese state news agency Suna later quoted a military spokesman admitting that a mistake was made.
“The Western Sudan Military Command has provided an apology to the representative of Unamid in the region and the apology was accepted, in recognition of the dual mistake committed,” the spokesman said.
The military spokesman said that the convoy had failed to seek permission to go through the area of the attack, and should not have been travelling at night. However, the UN says it did tell the Sudanese army about the convoy’s route in advance.
UNAMID took over peacekeeping duties in the troubled Darfur region in January from the AU peacekeeping force. Though it is authorised to have 26,000 members, it has only about 9,000 troops under its disposal now.
UN estimates that about 300,000 people have been killed and some 2.5 million displaced after ethnic Africans of the region took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum in 2003 to fight discrimination.