Armed men ambushed UN-African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, killing two soldiers and seriously injuring three in Sudan’s troubled west, the latest in a wave of attacks on the under-equipped force.
Separately Darfur’s main rebel group said last Friday it had clashed twice with government troops in the past three days, warning more attacks would mean “all-out war” and the collapse of a fragile peace process.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur, where mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing Khartoum of marginalising the remote arid region and sparking one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
“The attackers fled when the convoy returned fire. The attack left two peacekeepers killed in action and three seriously wounded,” the peacekeeping mission known as UNAMID said in a statement.
The peacekeepers were Egyptian, UNAMID said, urging the government to bring the unknown attackers to justice. Some 24 UNAMID soldiers have been killed since the mission was established in January 2008.
In the latest in an escalation of violence in Darfur since April elections, the rebel Justice and Equality Movement said 9t had clashed on May 4 with Sudan’s army 18 km (11 miles) south of Darfur’s capital el-Fasher and again in West Darfur on May 6.
“There is continuous bombardment by the Sudan government,” said JEM official al-Tahir al-Feki, adding there were also clashes on the ground. “If this continues then it is all-out war,” he added.
“If the Sudan government does not stop this may lead to escalation and escalation may make the whole (peace process) collapse,” he said.
Sudan’s army denied any bombardment or real clashes. “These are terrorist attacks,” said an army spokesman. “They go near to the villages and start shooting to scare the people and make them think it is unsafe…We were just chasing them away.”
Two UN sources confirmed a JEM presence south of el-Fasher and one official in the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force said they had received unconfirmed reports of a clash between JEM and the government in the area.
The army said JEM was on the move because of internal divisions. JEM said it had “mobile units” but denied trying to move into new areas of control.
A shaky peace process is due to restart after a pause for April’s election, which won a strong victory for Bashir’s ruling party in the north. Rebels and the army have in the past jockeyed for positions ahead of negotiations.
The United Nations estimates some 300 000 people died as the fighting drove more than 2 million Darfuris into makeshift camps surrounding towns, straining already dwindling water and food resources. Washington calls the violence genocide.
Khartoum denies genocide and puts the death toll at 10 000.
Pic: JEM rebels