KHARTOUM, (Reuters) – Up to 60 heavily armed men ambushed a patrol of U.N./African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, in a new attack on international forces in Sudan’s strife-torn west, the U.N. said on Friday.
The raiders, wearing uniforms and armed with AK-47 rifles, rocket- propelled grenades and machine guns, managed to take weapons from the Nigerian troops from the joint U.N./African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), an official added.
It was at least the fifth serious confrontation between armed groups and UNAMID troops since they took over from a beleaguered African Union force at the beginning of the year.
The attack happened close to the capital of West Darfur El Geneina on Wednesday — the same day another 45 Nigerian peacekeepers were killed in a road accident in northern Nigeria, after returning from a tour of duty in Darfur.
UNAMID spokesman Noureddine Mezni said the force had decided not to release details immediately after the assault as they were still trying to identify the attackers. “We have bandits and we have armed groups and we have the (rebel) factions. With our very limited number of troops, it is not an easy job,” Mezni told Reuters. “We are a peacekeeping organisation but there is no peace on the ground to keep. We are appealing for the cooperation of all sides in this conflict. We are here to help.”
Mezni said it was unclear how the attackers had taken the UNAMID light weapons. “But the peacekeepers were outnumbered … No shots were fired and no one was injured.”
The U.N. has warned the peacekeeping force remains seriously undermanned — with only 9,000 out of a promised 26,000-strong force on the ground — and poorly equipped. The force was sent to keep the peace in a remote region about the size of France.
Law and order has collapsed in Darfur where international experts say five years of conflict has killed 200,000 and driven 2.5 million from their homes. Khartoum puts the death count at 10,000 and accuses the western media of exaggerating the conflict.
Nigeria, the country that has contributed the most soldiers to the current force, has borne the brunt of some of the worst violence against peacekeepers in the region.
At least 12 soldiers were killed after armed raiders, thought to belong to a splinter rebel faction, attacked a Nigerian-manned base in the eastern Darfur town of Haskanita in September.
UNAMID is in the process of erecting a memorial stone to around 60 international peacekeepers killed since they first arrived in Darfur on 2004. UNAMID troops held a minute’s silence this week in memory of the 45 Nigerians killed in the road crash.
Aid workers running the world’s largest humanitarian operation in Darfur have warned that deteriorating security is having a serious impact on their work.
The U.N.’s World Food Programme said it was cutting humanitarian deliveries by half and forced a sharp cut in rations for aid-dependent Darfuris from May after a surge of bandit attacks on its convoys.