UN peacekeeper killed by gunmen in Darfur

A United Nations peacekeeper was killed in Darfur, the first UN casualty since the world body began sending small reinforcements to a beleaguered African Union force deployed in the violent western Sudan region, the AU and UN said on Saturday.

The UN peacekeeper, Egyptian Lieutenant Colonel Ehab Nazir, was shot by unidentified gunmen who looted his house late on Friday in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state. He died hours later in an AU hospital at the African force’s headquarters about 1km away, the AU said.

“The senseless killing of an innocent man in the confines of his residence is beyond comprehension,” said Hassan Gibril, the deputy head of the AU mission, at a memorial for the peacekeeper held on Saturday at the AU’s headquarters.

“He is the first peacekeeper sent to us as reinforcement to be killed in Darfur,” AU spokesperson Noureddine Mezni said by telephone.

The UN mission in Sudan confirmed the Egyptian officer’s death—the first time a blue helmet was slain in Darfur.

The unidentified gunmen who killed him were thought to be burglars, but an official close to the investigation said authorities would not exclude other motives for the killing. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.

In Cairo, the Foreign Ministry deplored the Egyptian officer’s death and deeply condemned in a statement the “sinful aggression” in which Nazir became the “casualty of an attack by armed elements”.

Hostility

The AU has faced increased hostility from warring factions in Darfur, and has lost 19 of its own peacekeepers since it first deployed in June 2004.

“Not a month goes by without a new killing; it’s very difficult,” said Mezni, stating the AU also has remained without news on the fate of an African officer kidnapped months ago in El Fasher.

The UN began deploying about 180 staff to Darfur in December as reinforcement to the overwhelmed 7 000-strong AU mission.

This “light support package” is part of a broader agreement that should lead to 3 000 UN peacekeepers moving into Darfur in 2007, but the AU and UN both acknowledge that even the first batch of 180 reinforcements have not yet all arrived.

The Sudanese government of President Omar al-Bashir has rejected a UN resolution for about 22 000 UN peacekeepers to replace the AU in Darfur, where more than 200 000 people have been killed and 2,5-million chased from their homes in four years of fighting.

Since then, Khartoum, the UN and the AU continue to negotiate a compromise deal for UN forces to slowly beef up world efforts to end Darfur’s spiralling violence.

Al-Bashir on Saturday reiterated his opposition to the 20 000-strong UN force for Darfur, but expressed hope that a solution to the conflict was in sight.
“The Darfur crisis is now on its way for a solution,” he told a conference in Khartoum.

Meanwhile, the state Omdurman Radio reported that in a phone call to UN chief Ban Ki-moon, al-Bashir invited the Secretary General to visit Sudan and see the situation on the ground, “instead of relying on mistaken reports”.—Sapa-AP

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