UNITED NATIONS, (AFP) — The United States and France expressed alarm Friday over delays in evacuating wounded UN peacekeepers in a troubled Sudanese region after a landmine blast which killed four Ethiopian soldiers.
The UN Security Council called urgent consultations for Monday to discuss the Abyei deaths and other mounting troubles in Sudan.
A top UN official has said Sudanese troops threatened to shoot at a helicopter sent to collect the wounded Ethiopians, delaying the evacuation by more than three hours. Sudan has denied the delay was unreasonable.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the holdup “unnecessary,” however.
“We are alarmed by reports that the government of Sudan delayed granting the necessary flight clearances to allow the expeditious medical evacuation of the injured peacekeepers and threatened to shoot down any UN helicopter that attempted to access the area without approval,” Clinton said.
“Three wounded soldiers died during this unnecessary delay,” Clinton added in a statement.
France called for an explanation of the case to be made to the UN Security Council.
“France is very worried about the conditions in which the four soldiers died. The wounded peacekeepers are said not have been quickly evacuated because of a lack of cooperation by the Sudanese authorities,” said a French foreign ministry statement.
“We want all details about the conditions of the drama to be brought to light and that the results of the inquiry be presented to the Security Council,” added the ministry.
The Security Council called a meeting for Monday on Sudan.
An Ethiopian patrol was caught in a landmine blast in the Abyei village of Mabok on Tuesday. Four soldiers died and seven were wounded, three critically.
One died at the scene but three died several hours later.
The United Nations at first told Sudanese authorities that they wanted to bring a medical evacuation helicopter from Wau in South Sudan, said a UN spokesman. The Khartoum government rejected this because Wau is in a foreign country.
The UN peacekeeping department then ordered a medevac helicopter from a base at Kadugli, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Abyei town, to collect the troops.
But UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said it was blocked for more than three hours by Sudanese troops at Kadugli. “They prevented us from taking off by threatening to shoot the helicopter,” Le Roy said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has protested to the Sudanese authorities over the delay.
“When the UN asked for permission to fly from Kadugli to Abyei, they got permission in three hours, which is the shortest time you can get such permission,” foreign ministry spokesman Al-Obeid Meruh told AFP.
“Any allegations that Sudan delayed the UN flight to rescue the injured soldiers in Abyei are totally incorrect,” he added.
Abyei is hotly disputed by Sudan and South Sudan and the Ethiopian peacekeeping force was ordered in after northern troops occupied the border territory in May.
There are about 1,500 Ethiopians troops now in Abyei out of a permitted force of 4,200. Most had been there less than a week when the blast happened.