April 22, 2012 (KHARTOUM) - Four Togolese peacekeepers who are part of the joint African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) were injured in an attack on Friday 20 April by unidentified gunmen in West Darfur.
- UNAMID peacekeeper (AFP Photo/Ian Timbarlake)
UNAMID said in a statement that a team of 32 officers had been on a routine patrol just before midday near Sisi displaced camp when they were attacked by men armed with AK-47 rifles. The group had been returning their base in Mourne, which is about 70 kilometres southeast of El Geneina.
The attack comes as local officials said that on April 18 Darfur rebels killed 11 soldiers from the Central African Republic (CAR) on the Sudanese side of international border, who were part of a three way Chad-Sudan-CAR border force.
On Friday, Ibrahim Gambari, the head of UNAMID expressed concern that Darfur’s rebel groups were attempting to exploit the current border conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, which seceded last year.
"In the climate of ongoing tensions between Sudan and South Sudan, I am deeply concerned that armed movements are seeking to destabilise Darfur," Gambari said. Three separate rebel attacks occurred in south Darfur on April 17.
Khartoum has accused some Darfur rebels of being involved in South Sudan’s occupation of the Heglig oil area from 10-20 April. Juba has denied this but a photograph from an Associated Press photographer who visited Heglig appears to show soldiers from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in the area.
JEM and the two main factions of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-MM/SLM-AW) have since last autumn formed a coalition with SPLM-North rebels in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, both of which lie on the border with South Sudan. The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) as the group is known says it intends to overthrow the government in Khartoum.
The SPLM-North began fighting the government in 2011 over disputed elections, an attempt by the Sudanese army to forcibly disarm them and the failure to implement a 2005 peace deal. Khartoum denies this claiming that the SPLM-N triggered the conflict by raiding police stations for weapons in Kadugli and attacking its forces in Blue Nile.
During the two-decade civil war that led to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and South Sudan’s secession last year, groups in Blue Nile and South Kordofan fought with the SPLM, which now governs independent South Sudan.
The UN, US and others in the international community have increasingly called on Juba to stop aiding the SPLM-North and other members of the SRF coalition as the conflict in Heglig intensified. Juba denies the claim and counters that Khartoum backs rebellions in South Sudan.
Research group the Small Arms Survey said last week that according to its evidence both allegations are likely to be true.
On Thursday JEM said that its troops clashed with the Sudanese army around Kharasana, near the disputed Heglig region in South Kordofan. Over the past year JEM has been attempting expand its operations into Kordofan and in December of last year its leader Khalil Ibrahim was killed in fighting with the Sudanese army in North Kordofan.
UNAMID has been deployed in Darfur since 2007 when it took over the purely African Union mission (AMIS) which ran from 2004 in response to the insurgency in Darfur that began in 2003.
JEM, and Darfur’s other rebels groups, accuse the Khartoum government of neglecting the western region, which has now been devastated by nine years of war resulting in the deaths of 300,000 people, according to the UN.
Attacks on UNAMID patrols have become a regular feature of the conflict.
After the attack on Friday UNAMID says its patrol team withdrew towards Sisi camp while a rescue force, which was also comprised of Togolese peacekeepers, was sent to assist them.
An hour after the initial attack, at around 1300, "the combined units started to move back to the base at Mourne and were ambushed again by gunmen who shot and injured two additional [formed police unit] FPU officers" the mission said in a statement.
UNAMID said that its officers returned fire, but the attackers were able to get away.
Upon reaching their base at Mourne the four wounded peacekeepers were flown by helicopter to West Darfur capital El Geneina, and are in a stable condition at a UNAMID hospital, the statement said.