Monday, April 23, 2007

African Union peacekeeper killed in Darfur

Source: CNN, April 15, 2007.

NYALA, Sudan (AP) -- Unidentified gunmen killed a Ghanaian military officer in the African Union's peacekeeping force in the Darfur region and hijacked his car within yards of the AU mission's headquarters, the AU said Sunday.

The officer was traveling alone in his vehicle when he was ambushed in the town of El Fasher late Saturday, AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni said.

The ambush took place hours after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte visited the peacekeeper headquarters during his trip to push Sudan's government to let U.N. troops reinforce the AU mission. He was in the capital, Khartoum, on Sunday to meet with Sudanese officials.

The dead officer was the seventh peacekeeper slain this month, raising to 18 the number of AU soldiers killed since the mission deployed in 2004 to try to stop a brutal conflict between ethnic Africans and Arabs. An AU officer also has been a hostage since December.

"If this growing hostility continues, truly the mission will be compromised and we will have to take the necessary measures," Mezni told The Associated Press.

Mezni and other AU officials said they did not know the identity of the gunmen, who struck on the outskirts of El Fasher, a government-controlled town in North Darfur. The 7,000-soldier AU mission has had its headquarters there since deploying to Darfur in 2004.

Mezni said more than 90 vehicles have been hijacked from the AU since the beginning of the mission.

"The AU will not let itself be dragged into the conflict," he said. "This cannot happen. ... We came here to protect civilians. If this is becoming impossible, we will take appropriate measures."

Last week, one soldier from Rwanda's contingent in the AU mission was slain during a patrol in North Darfur and an AU car was stolen during the assault, which took place in a zone controlled by the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, the AU said. Two other Rwandans were wounded.

Earlier this month, five Senegalese peacekeepers were killed in an ambush a day after the deputy commander of the AU force narrowly escaped being shot down in his helicopter as he flew to a meeting with rebels.

More than 200,000 [sic] [400,000 is more accurate] people have been killed in Darfur since 2003, when local rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government, accusing it of decades of discrimination against Darfur's ethnic Africans.

The International Criminal Court says the government retaliated by arming militias of Arab nomads known as the janjaweed, and has listed 51 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes against a Sudanese Cabinet minister and a suspected janjaweed chief.

Some rebels also have been accused of abuses. There are almost daily reports of vehicles being hijacked, aid workers assaulted and refugees harassed throughout Darfur, an arid region nearly the size of Texas where many areas are off-limits to the weakly armed AU peacekeepers.

The Sudanese government blocked a plan by the United Nations to replace them with a 22,000-strong U.N. force. But Sudan and the United Nations are now edging toward a compromise that would allow some 3,000 U.N. soldiers to deploy in Darfur as reinforcement to the AU force.

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