Darfur rebels kill 10 AU peacekeepers

Dozens are missing after 1,000 overrun base in deadly strike

October 01, 2007|By Edmund Sanders | Edmund Sanders,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Armed men killed at least 10 African Union soldiers and seriously wounded seven in the deadliest strike against peacekeeping troops in the troubled Darfur region since they were deployed in 2004.

A rebel faction in Darfur was thought to have carried out the assault, which began shortly after dark Saturday. Rebel groups had been fighting Sudanese government troops in the area in recent days.

African Union officials said they could not comment on the suspected identity of the gunmen until an investigation is complete.

More than 30 peacekeepers were missing late yesterday. It was unclear whether they had been killed, captured or fled amid the chaos.

About 1,000 suspected rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army attacked the base outside the town of Haskanita, in southeastern Darfur, after sunset when Muslims break their daytime fast for the holy month of Ramadan, and eventually stormed the facility early yesterday, AU officers said.

"They nearly destroyed the camp," said AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni. "Everyone is shocked."

Government soldiers have sealed off the town in response to the violence. More than a dozen rebel groups with various agendas and philosophies are competing for power and recognition. Two years ago, there were two main rebel groups in western Sudan.

The bloodshed marked the most recent breakdown in efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in advance of peace talks this month in Libya.

United Nations officials expressed surprise at the scale of the attack but vowed to carry on with plans to dispatch 26,000 peacekeepers this year or next year to assist the beleaguered 6,000-soldier AU force.

"It was quite a vicious attack," said U.N. spokeswoman Radhia Achouri. "But neither the United Nations nor the AU is going to be dropping the ball because of such attacks."

Rebel groups typically have armed themselves by attacking Sudanese government troops and stealing guns and supplies. During the past year, however, rebel groups also have targeted peacekeepers and aid agencies in their search for money, supplies and vehicles.

Relations between rebel groups and African Union forces have become increasingly strained during the past two years. Rebel groups accuse AU troops of failing to protect civilians and of working too closely with the Sudanese government.

But this raid was the first time since the AU mission was deployed in June 2004 that one of its bases has been overrun.

At least 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been displaced in more than four years of conflict in Darfur. The Sudanese government is accused of unleashing Arab militias known as janjaweed to fight ethnic African rebels. The militias are accused of having committed the worst atrocities of the conflict, including rape and mass killings of civilians.

Edmund Sanders writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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