Seven Tanzanian peacekeepers were killed during an ambush on Saturday in Sudan’s Darfur region, the African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) said yesterday, the worst-ever losses in the operation’s five-year history.
The attack near the peacekeepers’ base at Manawashi, north of South Darfur State capital Nyala, adds to the deteriorating security situation in Sudan’s far west.
“Seven peacekeepers were killed and 17 were injured,” UNAMID acting spokesman Christopher Cycmanick told reporters.
A later UN statement identified them as Tanzanians.
The ambush occurred about 25km west of another UNAMID base at Khor Abeche, Cycmanick said.
“The UNAMID team came under heavy fire from a large unidentified group. Following an extended firefight, the patrol was extracted by UNAMID reinforcements,” a statement said.
It added that the attack began at 9am and the wounded included two female police advisers. Such advisers are typically unarmed.
A rebel group yesterday accused government-linked militia of carrying out the ambush.
“We don’t have any doubt that the act was done by government militia, because militia are deployed in [the] Khor Abeche area,” said Abdullah Moursal, spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Army’s Minni Minnawi faction. “This area is completely under government control.”
The Minnawi faction and other key rebel groups in Darfur refused to sign an internationally backed peace deal signed two years ago between Khartoum and an alliance of rebel splinter factions.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has denounced the killings.
“The secretary-general condemns this heinous attack on UNAMID, the third in three weeks, and expects that the government of Sudan will take swift action to bring the perpetrators to justice,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Ban sent “deepest sympathies” to the families of the dead and the Tanzanian government.
UNAMID head Mohamed Ibn Chambas also condemned the ambush.
Earlier this month, three Nigerian peacekeepers were wounded and an ambulance with their patrol was shot up in Labado, east of Nyala, UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous said during a visit to Sudan.
About 50 UNAMID members have died in hostile action since the mission began late in 2007. Before Saturday’s attack, six peacekeepers had been killed in Darfur since October last year.
Despite repeated UN calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice however, UN sources say they are unaware of anyone having been held accountable in Sudan for killing a peacekeeper.
In April, a Nigerian peacekeeper was killed and two others wounded in an assault on their base east of Nyala. The Sudanese authorities denied suggestions from local sources that the attack appeared to have been carried out by government-linked forces.
A UN panel of experts earlier this year reported that former Sudanese government militia fighters had sometimes expressed their discontent with the current government by “direct attacks on UNAMID staff and premises.”
Rebels have been fighting for 10 years in Darfur and have contributed to some of the unrest this year, but Chambas blamed inter-ethnic fighting for most of the violence, which has displaced an estimated 300,000 people this year — more than in the past two years combined.
UN experts, rights activists and tribal leaders have accused government security forces of involvement in this year’s tribal fighting.
Yet Chambas said the nature of the disputes — mainly competition for land, water and mineral rights — made it hard to tell who was on which side, as police and militia also had ethnic affiliations.