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03 Oct 2007 07:50
African Union peacekeepers are outgunned and outnumbered by rebels and militias in Darfur, the AU force commander Martin Luther Agwai said on Tuesday.
He said this was one reason an AU base in Haskanita, south-east Darfur, was overwhelmed so quickly during the worst attack on the peacekeepers by suspected rebels on Saturday, killing and injuring at least 20 with three soldiers still missing.
“We are outgunned, we are outnumbered and we can be overrun very quickly,” he told a visiting delegation of elder statesmen and women in Darfur’s main town of el-Fasher.
He said attackers burnt the mosque, where many peacekeepers were praying during Ramadan and caught off guard during the attack at dusk prayers.
The injured waited about 18 hours until the AU could send in medical help, he said.
Nigerian Agwai, who will command a 26 000-strong joint United Nations-AU mission which is due to replace the struggling AU force by January 1, painted a grim picture for the deployment, which has been delayed by a lack of pledges of well-equipped troops.
He said he did not expect extra forces to deploy by then.
“From all indications ... we are not going to have any appreciable change from where we are today until December 31.”
After months of talks, threats and negotiations Khartoum agreed to the hybrid mission, but they insist the force retain an “African character”.
While African nations have pledged almost double the number of infantry needed for the force, Agwai said the reality was that most of them did not meet UN standards.
And despite an August 31 deadline for pledges, the force has still not enough specialised air or logistical support expected from Western nations.
“I’m an African ...
but the reality is not many African countries can provide troops that can self-sustain themselves for six months,” he said.
“There’s no African country that can have the equipment we need for example in air assets,” he said, adding Nigeria, one of the best armies in Africa, could not do it.
Beside being ill-equipped, Agwai revealed operational difficulties which the elders called “shocking”.
The “elders”, including former United States president Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, arrived in el-Fasher in Darfur on Tuesday to support peace in the region.
Agwai said entire AU patrols were aborted because government and rebel ceasefire observers would fight over who could sit in the front seat.
The AU has come under attack, as in Haskanita, because they are the most visible sign of the failure of the international community to stem the violence in Darfur.
International experts say some 200 000 have died and 2,5-million driven from their homes sparking the world’s largest humanitarian operation, which is also attacked almost daily.
Sudan criticised the United States and European Union for failing to impose sanction on Darfur rebel groups blamed for the Haskanita attack, which destroyed the AU base.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ali al-Sadig said the “most likely” culprits behind Saturday’s attack on the Haskanita base were a splinter group of either the rebel Justice Equality Movement (JEM) or the Sudan Liberation Army’s Unity faction.
The African Union mediated a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels in May 2006 but only one of three rebel negotiating factions signed the deal. Since then rebels have split into a dozen factions.
The US said late on Monday it was prepared to impose fresh sanctions on whoever ordered the worst single assault on African Union peacekeepers since the mission came to Darfur in 2004.
The African Union said on Tuesday it had established some clear leads in its investigation into the attack, but was waiting for more firm evidence before publishing the findings.
“Investigations are under way but they are not complete,” said spokesperson Noureddine Mezni. - Reuters
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