March 29, 2012 (KHAROUM) – Five civilians have reportedly died and 21 sustained injuries during two days of popular unrest involving local authorities and the UN-AU peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.
- File- UNAMID’s Force Commander Lieutenant General Patrick Nyamvumba of Rwanda (C) speaks to Senegalese peacekeepers (REUTERS)
According to the Netherland-based Radio Dabanga, the dispute erupted on Tuesday in Kabkabiya town, located approximately 130 kilometers west of El Fasher, North Darfur’s capital, where local citizens clashed with the police over alleged plans by the commissioner to relocate a local market place.
The police responded with gunfire, immediately killing five civilians, including two women, and injuring 11, as reported by Dabanga.
Following the incident, the UN-AU Hybrid Peacekeeping Mission in Darfur, best known by its acronym, UNAMID, said that a crowd of more than 200 people moved to its compound where they had “mistakenly thought” that the commissioner had sought refuge.
UNAMID said that the protestors, “many armed with stones, sticks and machetes” tried to force entry into the camp, prompting peacekeepers to mount a resistance in which three of its troopers were injured.
One civilian was injured and later died en route to hospital when government forces arrived and dispersed the demonstrators, the mission said.
The same scenario continued on Wednesday, when thousands of “peaceful demonstrators”, according to Dabanga, gathered outside UNAMID compound chanting slogans demanding prosecution of police members who killed the civilians.
Dabanga reported that some protesters tried to force entry into the compound after they were frustrated by UNAMID’s refusal to allow them in to deliver a letter they drafted to the mission Special Joint Representative (SJR) Ibrahim Gambari and the chairman of Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) El Tijani El Sisis who, according to witnesses cited by Dabanga, were present in the camp at the time.
In response, Dabanga reported, UNAMID peacekeepers “immediately” fired live bullets on the protesters injuring 13. Seven of them were in critical condition and had to be taken to the hospital.
UNAMID, for its part, said in a media release issued on Thursday that “it did not attempt to harm" any member of the population during the two days of demonstrations outside its camp, saying that seven of its peacekeepers were injured when the protesters tried to break into the camp.
Meanwhile, the incidents have generated an angry reaction from one of Darfur’s rebel groups.
The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) on Friday issued a press release strongly condemning the killings meted out by whom they termed as “the militias of the [ruling] National Congress Party (NCP)” as well as the injuries caused by the gunfire of UNAMID forces.
JEM’s official spokesman, Jibril Adam Bilal, said that his group holds UNAMID’s SJR Gambari and (DRA) responsible for the incidents. He added that his group “finds it unbelievable that Gambari and El Tijani El Sisis did not order the shooting of civilians given that they were in the building in front of which the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] were assassinated.
“We will not accept any explanation from UNAMID which came to protect the civilians but ended up participating with NCP militias in targeting them” Bilal declared.
JEM’s statement further called on the UN to initiate an urgent investigation into the incident and hold those involved accountable and bring them to trial. “JEM will never accept that this incident goes unpunished” the statement concluded.
JEM along with two factions of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movements (SLM) led by Abdul Wahid Nur and Manni Arkoi Minnawi had refused to join the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur signed in mid-July last year between the Sudanese government and the former rebels of Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) led by El Sisis who was appointed to the chairmanship of the DRA as part of the deal.
These groups are highly critical of UNAMID’s support for the peace process and often accuse the mission of complicity with the Sudanese government.
UNAMID is the largest peacekeeping mission in the world. It was deployed in 2007 with an authorized force of 19,555 military personnel and a robust mandate to protect civilians affected by the nine-year civil wars in Darfur.
Darfur region is currently the scene of a low-intensity conflict whose pinnacle in 2003 -2004 claimed the lives of more than 300,000 people and led to the displacement of 2.7 million, according to UN figures.