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30 Sep 2007 12:22
Ten African Union (AU) soldiers were killed and 50 were missing after armed men launched an assault on an AU base in Darfur, the worst attack on AU troops since they deployed in Sudan’s violent west in 2004.
The AU called it a “deliberate and sustained” assault by about 30 vehicles, which overran and looted the peacekeepers’ camp on Saturday night.
Sudan’s army and Darfur rebel movements initially blamed each other for the strike on the Haskanita base in south-eastern Darfur. But one rebel source said the attack was carried out by breakaway rebel forces who wanted a seat at peace talks due to begin on October 27 in Libya.
“Reports [indicate] 10 killed and 50 missing in action with seven seriously injured,” said AU spokesperson Noureddine Mezni.
“Our camp is completely destroyed,” he said, adding it was the heaviest casualties suffered since the AU mission deployed.
“There is a feeling of shock.”
News of the violence drew swift and widespread condemnation.
“Not only was it a flagrant violation of the ceasefire but an unconscionable crime that breaks every convention and norm of international peacekeeping,” said Rodolphe Adada, the political head of a joint UN-AU mission due to replace the AU forces.
Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) spokesperson Ahmed Hussein said: “It is not fair that the AU should be attacked in this way.”
One rebel source said the attack was by breakaway JEM rebels trying to get vehicles, weapons and power, and gain an invitation to talks.
He blamed JEM’s sacked vice-president Bahr Idriss Abu Garda and former military chief Abdallah Banda.
Another source said they had been working with Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) Unity in the area.
An alliance between JEM and SLA Unity faction have become the largest military threat to Khartoum in recent months.
Abu Bakr Kadu, an SLA Unity commander, denied they were responsible, but said they had been fighting with government forces in Haskanita all day on Saturday until sunset.
“Maybe the AU was caught in the middle of the bombardment during our battles with the government.
The AU said the attack began at 19.30 [16.30pm GMT] on Saturday, after sunset.
The latest violence to threaten Darfur’s fragile peace process came as a group of international Elders was due in Sudan on Sunday to put their hand to resolving the conflict in Darfur and growing tensions in the country’s south.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former US president Jimmy Carter, rights activist Graça Machel, and peace mediation veteran Lakhdar Brahimi, accompanied by British businessman Richard Branson, were due on Sunday in Sudan for the start of a trip that will take them to Darfur and the southern capital Juba.
International experts estimate about 200 000 people have died in Darfur with 2.5 million driven from their homes. Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing central government of neglect.
Washington calls the conflict genocide, a term Khartoum rejects and European governments are reluctant to use. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir puts the death toll at 9 000.
A joint UN-AU peacekeeping force with 26 000 police and soldiers is due to deploy next year to absorb the AU’s 7 000 peacekeepers who, lacking equipment and experience, have struggled to defend even themselves against attack.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Saturday’s “confirms the need to send the African and the UN hybrid force [to Darfur] as soon as possible,” the state news agency reported.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner condemned the attack as a “murderous and unacceptable act”. - Reuters
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