/ 1 October 2007

AU vows justice for killers of Darfur peacekeepers

The African Union on Monday began probing an unprecedented attack on one of its bases in Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur that left 10 peacekeepers dead and 25 missing, vowing to punish those responsible.

”The inquiry is under way and we will make its conclusions public. Those who carried out this attack will be strongly sanctioned,” AU Mission in Sudan spokesperson Noureddine Mezni said, declining to speculate on who carried out the attack.

The attack by a large, organised group of heavily armed men who overran southern Darfur’s Haskanita camp in 30 vehicles took place on Saturday night, the worst assault on the under-manned force since it deployed in July 2004.

The AU said that 21 of the missing were Nigerian, as were seven of the dead. The other dead troops were from Mali, Botswana and Senegal. The AU said eight people were seriously wounded and the death toll might rise.

Mezni said 17 other peacekeepers who were earlier reported missing in the raid were discovered to the south of the base, apparently unharmed.

Amid international outcry over the brazen assault, the United States called for a planned AU-United Nations force many times stronger than the current mission to reach Darfur ”as soon as possible”.

”What the president wants is that UN peacekeeping force to get there as soon as possible because we are committed to ending the violence,” US President George Bush’s chief spokesperson, Dana Perino, said.

”The human disaster that we face in that area is very troubling, it’s something that needs to be addressed by the international community, including the UN peacekeeping force.”

UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned the killings and called on Darfur’s warring sides to recommit to a settlement, citing peace talks scheduled for Libya on October 27 and preparations for the joint deployment of AU-UN troops.

Ban urged all parties ”to recommit as a matter of the highest priority to a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

AU-UN joint envoy Rodolphe Adada, who flew to the main Darfur town of al-Fasher to personally supervise the inquiry into the attack, said he was ”appalled by the outrageous and deliberate attack”.

The under-equipped African force of about 7 000 troops from 26 countries patrolling Darfur, a region the size of France, is due to begin being replaced later this year by the hybrid 26 000-strong AU-UN force.

Five Senegalese AU peacekeepers were killed in an attack in April.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which Khartoum blamed on rebels.

”Such irresponsible attacks constitute a serious violation to the ceasefire agreement,” the new commander of the hybrid force, General Martin Luther Agwai, said, implicitly blaming rebels.

”Rebel groups, who indulge in such random violence and bloodshed, undermine their own credibility on any negotiation table.”

However, one rebel group which last month called for a ceasefire ahead of the deployment of the new hybrid force blamed the government, saying only that the charge was based ”on initial information gathered on the ground”.

”The Sudan Liberation Movement condemns this senseless attack on the AU base in Darfur,” said Nouri Abdallah, top aide to Ahmed Abdel Shafi, a key Darfur rebel faction leader based in Kampala.

Abdallah said he believed the attack was planned to ”create havoc in Darfur ahead of the deployment of the AU-UN hybrid force … and an attempt to derail the political process.”

Agwai also said it was regrettable that the attack happened ahead of the peace talks due in Tripoli later this month in an attempt to broaden a Darfur peace agreement signed by only one rebel faction in May last year.

Conflict and famine in Darfur have left at least 200 000 people dead and two million displaced since Khartoum enlisted Janjaweed Arab militia allies to put down an ethnic minority revolt in 2003. — AFP