Darfur: UN-African Union Force Condemns ‘Cowardly’ Attack Against Blue Helmets

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–5 December 2009 – The joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) today spoke out against the “cowardly” attack against its forces yesterday that claimed the lives of three blue helmets.

Two soldiers were also seriously wounded in the incident that took place at about 4:45 pm local time, when a platoon comprising 20 Rwandan peacekeepers escorting a water tanker was attacked by unknown gunmen in Saraf Umra in North Darfur.

The Rwandan blue helmets, who had arrived in the area less than two weeks ago, returned fire with restraint since there were civilians in the area, sending the attackers fleeing.

In a press release issued in El Fasher, UNAMID called on the Sudanese Government “to identify the perpetrators, arrest them and bring them to justice.”

Yesterday’s attack also sparked condemnation by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“The Secretary-General deplores this attack on AU-UN peacekeepers in Darfur,” he said in a statement issued by his spokesperson, expressing his condolences to the families of the fallen peacekeepers and reiterating his appreciation “for their service and commitment to the search for peace in Darfur.”

The deadly attack brings to 20 the number of UNAMID armed personnel killed in a hostile confrontation since the mission deployed at the start of 2008. In July 2007 a joint police and military patrol from the preceding AU mission was ambushed by at least 200 attackers, leaving seven peacekeepers dead and 22 wounded.

Yesterday’s incident follows the shooting and wounding of three other peacekeepers, also by unidentified gunmen, in West Darfur in October, and the killing of another in South Darfur in May, as well as the kidnapping of two UNAMID civilian staff members in August in West Darfur. They are still being held.

In his latest report on UNAMID last month, Mr. Ban said increased threats to international staff, including “extremely alarming” kidnappings, military action by Chad, Sudan and rebels, and Government limits on peacekeepers’ movements continued to hamper efforts to stabilize the Sudanese area torn apart by nearly seven years of war.

At least 300,000 people are estimated to have died and 2.7 million more have been driven from their homes in the fighting between the Government, its militia allies and various armed groups.

Almost two years after being set up, UNAMID has still only reached 69 per cent of its authorized troop strength – 14,638 military personnel out of the total 19,555, and 4,449 police – and still lacks key military elements, including two medium transport units, a level II hospital, an aerial reconnaissance unit, and 18 medium utility helicopters.