UN peacekeepers attacked in Darfur

January 8, 2008 10:56:52 AM PST
Sudanese troops shot at a United Nations convoy in Darfur, apparently mistaking it for a group of rebels in the first attack against the peacekeeping mission since it began this month, U.N. officials said Tuesday. A Sudanese driver was critically injured in the shooting on the supply convoy, which destroyed a fuel tanker truck and damaged an armored personnel carrier, protected by South African peacekeepers, which occured late Monday near Sudan's volatile border with Chad, the U.N. mission, known as UNAMID, said in a statement.

A U.N. peacekeeper stationed near the site of the attack said a Sudanese army unit apparently mistook the South African peacekeepers for Darfur rebels who also operate in the area. "It was nighttime, it seems the (Sudanese) soldiers lost their calm," the peacekeeper said.

A senior official with the joint African Union-U.N. mission, known as UNAMID, gave a similar account. He said the soldiers stopped shooting after 10 minutes and let the peacekeepers go. Both the peacekeeper and the official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the incident with the media.

The U.N. could not immediately comment on who was involved in the attack, but said in a statement it "is in direct consultations and discussion with Sudanese authorities ... over the matter." There was no immediate Sudanese government comment.

Head of mission Rodolphe Adada consulted with Sudan's Foreign Ministry Tuesday afternoon and both sides have "agreed to launch an urgent investigation," UNAMID spokesman Noureddine Mezni told The Associated Press.

"The is the first time UNAMID is attacked, and we hope it will be the last," Mezni said. "We are in Darfur to bring peace, not to fight."

The U.N. mission is the latest international attempt to quell the violence in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have fled to refugee camps in nearly five years of fighting between the Sudanese government and local rebels.

A previous African Union force was unable the end the chaos and suffered dozens of casualties.

Under a compromise deal with the Sudanese government, the new U.N. force incorporates the African peacekeepers already deployed and is to remain predominantly African.

The mission is due to number 26,000 peacekeepers and police, but the deployment is far behind schedule and Western countries have so far failed to commit heavy fighting equipment such as helicopters.