Unidentified gunmen opened fire on Pakistani peacekeepers in Sudan’s Darfur region yesterday, injuring seven, two of them seriously, in the latest in a string of attacks on the force, officials said.
The ambush followed reports of a resurgence of fighting in Sudan’s violent west that had forced thousands to flee, according to the UN/African Union UNAMID peacekeeping force.
Yesterdays attackers shot at an armed UNAMID police patrol near Nyala, capital of South Darfur, escaping with two police vehicles, UNAMID spokesperson Noureddine Mezni told Reuters.
“Two of the seven were critically wounded. This is very serious. We are a peacekeeping mission but we do not have a comprehensive peace to keep,” he said.
A total of 22 UNAMID soldiers and police have died in ambushes, carjackings and other violent incidents since they took over from a beleaguered African Union force at the beginning of 2008.
Mezni said one of the critically injured men was evacuated to Khartoum, while the other was too seriously injured to move from hospital in Nyala, where the five others also were treated.
A UN official said the injured men came from Pakistan.
Law and order has collapsed in Darfur since the conflict flared in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Sudan’s government, accusing it of neglecting the region.
Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militias to crush the revolt, unleashing a wave of violence that Washington and some activists have called genocide.
Bandits have stolen hundreds of vehicles from peacekeepers and aid groups, dismantling them for spare parts inside Darfur or driving them across the border for sale in Chad and further afield, UNAMID’s police chief Michael Fryer told Reuters last week.
Rival factions of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army clashed in Darfur’s central Jabel Marra area earlier this month, insurgents and government officials told Reuters, while Sudan’s army attacked at least two rebel positions, UN officials and insurgents said. Sudan’s army denied attacking rebels.
UNAMID released a statement calling for restraint after the clashes which had “left many dead and caused thousands to flee” but did not say who was fighting.
The ambush came just hours after the peacekeepers took delivery of their first five military helicopters, ending a wait of more than two years for air support in Darfur.
Military commanders and activists repeatedly have called on Western powers to provide UNAMID with tactical helicopters since 2008. Senior UN officials said they struggled to find any because so many helicopters had gone to other conflict zones, including Afghanistan.
Sudan’s neighbour Ethiopia became the first country to respond to the call by sending five MI-35 helicopters together with pilots and support staff to Nyala yesterday, UNAMID said.
“This will make a huge difference. Only one country has been able to help us. An African country has supported us. We still need more, at least 18 in total,” Mezni told Reuters.
Estimates of Darfur’s total death count range from 10 000 according to Khartoum to 300 000 according to the United Nations.