Khartoum (AFP) – A deadly attack on peacekeepers in Sudan involved weapons “never used before” and may have aimed to prevent them reaching an area where violence had been reported, the mission told AFP on Monday.
The ambush on Wednesday about 10 kilometres from Hashaba North in North Darfur state killed one South African member of the African Union-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and wounded three others.
“This criminal attack against a UNAMID convoy of 16 vehicles was carried out by unidentified assailants who have used arsenals of high-calibre weapons that were never used before,” UNAMID spokeswoman Aicha Elbasri said in a written reply to AFP questions.
“This includes mortars, medium machineguns, rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47 rifles and anti-tank guns.”
She said an armoured personnel carrier was hit several times by weapons fire.
The ambush occurred while a UNAMID convoy of military, police and civilian personnel was on its way to the Hashaba area, where the United States says more than 70 civilians died in September from fighting and aerial bombardments between rebels and Sudanese government forces.
“This well-prepared attack against [the] UNAMID verification mission could mean that it was deliberately carried out to prevent the mission from accessing Hashaba and assessing the situation following recent reports of violence in the area,” Elbasri said.
Darfur’s top official, Eltijani Seisi, was out of the country and could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Much of the Darfur unrest now is linked to pro-government Arab groups, which fight among themselves as well as against the regime, humanitarian sources have said.
Rebels fighting to overthrow the government told AFP that the UNAMID convoy had been stopped by “militia.”
“UNAMID continues to exploit ways and means to access Hashaba. It is planning for another verification mission to Hashaba in line with its mandate,” which is to protect civilians, Elbasri said, calling for the government and UNAMID to jointly investigate the attack on the convoy.
It was the second deadly ambush of UNAMID peacekeepers this month.
The latest attack came on the day that a delegation of European Union ambassadors visited Darfur and expressed concern to local officials about “the recent deterioration in security in some parts” of Sudan’s far-west region, which is about the size of France.
Violence has eased since the early days of the nine-year-old war but various conflicts persist in Darfur: rebel-government clashes, inter-Arab and tribal fighting, as well as carjackings and other banditry.
Ethnic African rebels rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003.
In response, the government unleashed state-backed Janjaweed Arab militia in a conflict that shocked the world and led to allegations of genocide, followed by the deployment of UNAMID almost five years ago.
Before the latest attack UNAMID’s acting chief, Aichatou Mindaoudou, spoke of “an increasing number of security-related incidents in North Darfur, including armed clashes between members of different communities with high civilian casualties.”
It is an “alarming development” which calls for urgent implementation of a government plan to disband armed militias and combat “outlaw groups,” she said in Khartoum.
North Darfur’s Deputy Governor, Al-Fateh Abdel Aziz Abdel Nabi, told the EU delegation that security had greatly improved in recent years and any incidents are “isolated”.
On 2 October , four Nigerian UNAMID peacekeepers died in an ambush near El-Geneina in West Darfur.
Sudanese authorities said they detained suspects in that case but have given no details.
The dead South African is the 43rd peacekeeper from UNAMID to be killed in hostile action but UN sources have said they were unaware of anybody previously being brought to justice for the attacks.