Sudan army denies attacking UN peacekeepers

Sudan on Wednesday strongly denied that its army had opened fire on a United Nations convoy that was attacked in Darfur days after peacekeepers began their new mission to the troubled western Sudanese region.

A Sudanese driver was critically injured, a fuel tanker truck destroyed and an armoured personnel carrier damaged late on Monday near Darfur’s volatile border with Chad when “a clearly marked [UN] supplies convoy was attacked by elements of the Sudanese armed forces”, the UN said in a statement.

The UN has lodged a complaint with Khartoum and said “the government of Sudan has to provide unequivocal guarantees that there will be no recurrence of such activities by its forces”.

It said it had agreed with the government to launch an urgent investigation into the attack.

But several Sudanese newspapers quoted the military on Wednesday as denying that its forces had opened fire on the UN mission to Darfur, which began on January 1 and is known as Unamid.

“The army has not fired a single bullet at Unamid, by mistake or not,” Sudanese military spokesperson Khalid Sawarmy told the independent al-Sahafa newspaper. “What is reported about this is totally untrue.”

Some UN officials said the Sudanese army had attacked the peacekeepers by mistake, confusing them with Darfur rebels.
Sawarmy said this sounded as if the army was finding an excuse to apologise for its error, and denied this was the case.

“Of course we cannot apologise for a mistake that we didn’t commit,” he said.

The military gave no alternative explanation to who attacked the UN convoy.

Unamid spokesperson Noureddine Mezni said the remainders of the convoy had safely reached the border outpost of Tine on Wednesday. “We have to continue ground supplies convoys because of the restrictions on Unamid flights,” he said on the telephone.

The UN says it has suspended most helicopter flights near the border because of fears aircraft could be caught in the fighting between the Sudanese military and Darfur rebels or nearby Chadian forces.

The U mission is the latest international attempt to quell Darfur’s violence, which has killed more than 200 000 and chased 2,5-million from their homes since 2003 when ethnic African rebels took arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government, accusing it of discrimination.

Sudan denies multiple allegations of war crimes in the region and is now accused of obstructing the deployment of the new UN force.

Khartoum has not accepted a Status of Forces Agreement—the legal framework under which peacekeepers can operate. Mezni said negotiations on the agreement would resume in coming days.

The new joint force, which incorporates a previous African Union mission that suffered dozens of casualties, currently stands at about 9 000 troops and police and is supposed to grow to 26 000. But the deployment is far behind schedule and Western countries have so far failed to commit heavy fighting equipment such as helicopters.—Sapa-AP

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