At least 10 African Union (AU) troops have been killed and 50 reported missing from their base in Sudan's western Darfur region in the bloodiest attack on the peacekeeping force, the AU said yesterday.
"At least 10 soldiers were killed, seven wounded and dozens are missing," AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) spokesman Noureddine Mezni told reporters after the attack on Saturday night on Haskanita base in southern Darfur.
An AU statement said 50 personnel were missing after a "sustained attack by a large and organized group of heavily armed men" who broke into the camp with 30 vehicles, forcing AU troops to fight "a defensive battle."
"This is the worst single incident perpetrated against AMIS since the mission began in July 2004 and the first time that an AMIS [base] has been deliberately attacked in this fashion," it said.
The AU declined to speculate on who carried out the attack or elaborate on the nationalities of those killed.
AU-UN joint envoy Rodolphe Adada said he was "profoundly shocked and appalled by the outrageous and deliberate attack" which came just weeks ahead of peace talks in Tripoli in a bid to end what Washington has called genocide in Darfur.
"It is staggering to imagine what could possibly have been the intentions of those who perpetrated this wanton and unprovoked act," Adada said. "It is grotesque that such an act should be conceived at a time when all parties should be preparing for the upcoming peace negotiations in Libya."
The under-equipped African force of around 7,000 troops from 26 countries patrolling Darfur, a region the size of France, is due to begin being replaced later this year by a hybrid 26,000-strong AU-UN force.
Five Senegalese AU peacekeepers were killed in an attack in April.
"Such irresponsible attacks constitute a serious violation to the ceasefire agreement," the new commander of the hybrid force, General Martin Luther Agwai, said, implicitly blaming rebels. "Rebel groups, who indulge in such random violence and bloodshed, undermine their own credibility on any negotiation table."
Agwai also said it was regrettable that the attack happened ahead of peace talks due in Tripoli on Oct. 27 in an attempt to broaden a Darfur peace agreement signed by only one rebel faction in May last year.
"Despite the casualties and loss of life, we will persevere in our efforts to keep the fragile peace on the ground while all eyes are set on the negotiation table to ensure the peace is a lasting and sustainable one," he said.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said that Saturday's attack showed the need to deploy the hybrid force, to which Cairo has offered to contribute 2,500 troops, "as quickly as possible."
The attack came as South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu was due in Khartoum heading a group of statesmen called The Elders seeking to help peace efforts in Darfur.
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