Blue helmets come under fire in western Darfur, UN reports


Peacekeepers on patrol in the west of the war-ravaged Sudanese region of Darfur were ambushed today by unidentified gunmen, with seven blue helmets sustaining injuries, reports the United Nations.

According to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the troops returned fire on their attackers, who fled the scene. The joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID, immediately sent reinforcement troops to the scene of the clashes.

All of the blue helmets later returned to their base, where those wounded in the ambush are receiving medical treatment.

Today’s development comes amid violence in other parts of Darfur, where an estimated 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million others have been displaced in the past seven years due to fighting between rebels and Government forces backed by allied Janjaweed militiamen, reports the UN News Service.

Over the weekend, clashes broke out in the Kalma camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) following the latest round of peace talks in the Qatari capital, Doha, aimed at bringing an end to the Darfur conflict, with some of the camp’s residents saying they were not fully represented.

The gunmen identified themselves as members of the Abdul Wahid faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), one of numerous rebel groups that have been fighting Government forces.

One person was injured and no deaths were reported following the violence. Sudanese authorities have arrested two people for attempting to assault a sheikh who attended the Doha conference.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today expressed his concern over the clashes in Kalma camp, calling on all sides “to address their differences through political dialogue and to refrain from any action that could incite violence.”

In his statement, he noted that the AU-UN Joint Chief Mediator Djibril Bassolé and UNAMID “are doing all they can to defuse the situation and facilitate reconciliation.”

The mission said today that three people who were either supporters or members of the rebel group known as the Liberty and Justice Movement (LJM), which recently signed a ceasefire agreement with Sudanese authorities in Doha, were killed yesterday in western Darfur.

The lost their lives in violence which broke out last night in the Hamadiya camp in Zalingei between IDPs backing LJM and those supporting the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW) faction. Several houses of LJM backers were burned down in the fighting.

UNAMID reports that the clashes have ended, with authorities arresting four suspects and confiscating weapons found in their homes. Humanitarian aid to the camp has been suspended due to the insecurity.

On Tuesday, Ibrahim Gambari, the mission’s head, told the Security Council that the peace process in Darfur has reached a critical point, with the security situation deteriorating just as prospects for a negotiated settlement have improved slightly.

He noted several encouraging signs pointing to a possible peace deal. “Civil society is now more involved in peace talks than ever, the Government of Sudan is demonstrating renewed commitment to negotiations, and the leaders of most armed opposition movements are either participating in or are expressing an interest in participating in the talks,” he said.

But Mr. Gambari, who is also the Joint Special Representative of the UN and AU in Darfur, warned that the overall security situation continues to deteriorate in the remote and arid region on Sudan’s western flank.

Government forces have clashed with members of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which withdrew from the Doha talks and has yet to re-engage, dislodging the rebel group from several of its traditional strongholds and disrupting its main supply routes.