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4 UN Peacekeepers Wounded in Darfur Attack

By Derek Kilner
Nairobi
10 March 2009

Four United Nations peacekeepers were wounded when gunmen attacked their vehicle in Western Darfur. The attack is the first on peacekeepers since the International Criminal Court approved an arrest warrant for Sudan's president last week.

The joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission said the peacekeepers were ambushed by five or six unidentified gunmen on Monday evening while driving near the town of El-Geneina in West Darfur.

The peacekeepers, three Nigerians and one Rwandan, were flown to a base in the town of El-Fasher for treatment, according to the mission, with one of the soldiers in critical condition.

A spokesman for the peacekeeping force, Noureddine Mezni, said that Western Darfur has seen a rise in banditry and other small-scale attacks in recent weeks, but that Monday's attack is more worrisome.

"This time our peacekeepers were targeted," he said. "Before it was an issue of carjacking or breaking into the houses of our personnel or NGOs compounds. But this time it is a serious incident, and we strongly condemn this escalation and we are trying our best to identify the perpetrators and to take the necessary action against them."

Numerous armed groups operate in Darfur, particularly in the west near the border with Chad. In addition to numerous rebel factions, and government-backed militias, a growing number of straightforward armed bandits have taken advantage of the insecurity in the region.

The UN has about 15,000 troops deployed in Darfur, but that is still well below its approved strength of 26,000.

Also on Tuesday, the United States Embassy said non-emergency staff can leave Sudan. A message from the embassy said protests may encourage attacks on Americans and Europeans.

Since the International Criminal Court approve a warrant for President Omar al-Bashir last week, the government has organized several rallies in Khartoum and other cities, with fiery rhetoric against the court and its American and European backers. The Sudanese government has said it will protect diplomatic missions and has placed extra security around embassies.

The government has expelled 13 international aid agencies from northern Sudan, claiming they were passing information to the ICC. The government has warned that further NGOs, as well as diplomats, could also be kicked out if they do not follow Sudanese laws. The UN has appealed to Sudan to reverse the decision. The UN's top humanitarian official said on Monday that the remaining UN and nongovernmental agencies do not have the capacity to fill the gap in aid delivery.

On Monday, the African Union reaffirmed its opposition to the ICC warrant. On a visit to Khartoum, where he met with President Bashir, AU Commission chair Jean Ping said the ICC decision has "jeopardized" efforts for peace and reconciliation in Darfur.




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