Sudan Leaks: 'UN surrendered displaced to abductors'
An armed convoy of UN soldiers escorting a group of displaced people to a peace conference last year surrendered the group to armed abductors without resisting, according to internal UN documents from Darfur.
The UN African Union Mission in Darfur (Unamid) initially failed to report to its headquarters details of the abduction as well as the fact that the peacekeepers did not resist the abduction, which was carried out by the Sudan Liberation Movement, led by Abdel Wahid El Nur (SLM-AW), on 24 March 2013.
Soldiers dispatched by the UN mission were traveling from Zalingei to Nyala, escorting three buses carrying 31 internally displaced people, who were invited to participate in a summit in Nyala, organised by the Darfur Regional Authority.
Gunmen of the SLM-AW stopped the convoy and abducted the displaced, because the rebels opposed the conference. The hard-line SLM-AW, fighting since 2003, refused to participate in the Doha peace process that led to a peace deal signed in 2011.
Abductors identified themselves to the UN peacekeepers as SLM-AW fighters, Radio Dabanga reported at the time, but the UN in its first press release on the issue still referred to the abductors as only an “unidentified armed group.”
Internal UN reporting on the issue was little better, with few details passed from the Darfur mission to headquarters in New York.
Nearly three weeks after the abduction, Hervé Ladsous, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, wrote to peacekeeping officials in Darfur saying he was unsure what had happened and requesting for more information about what happened.
“We remain unclear about the specifics of what transpired that day; nor do we have clarity on the Mission’s preparations, both political and operational, prior to undertaking this sensitive task,” Ladsous wrote in a confidential cable to Aïchatou Mindaoudou, Unamid Deputy Joint Special Representative.
Mindaoudou’s initial report to the New York headquarters on 28 March explained in only three sentences what happened when the Unamid convoy was intercepted. She stated, “The abductors ignored Unamid protestations and took the displaced to an unknown location.”
However, it later emerged that the peacekeepers never resisted the abduction. Tijani Sese, the chairman of the Darfur Regional Authority, condemned the handing over of the 31 displaced “without the slightest resistance.”
The displaced were outraged, with one leader telling Radio Dabanga, “If they ask us to come for a meeting, and the UN provides armed escort, but still we get arrested, how can we ever trust the government and the UN?”
In another cable to New York a week after the abduction, on 30 March, Mindaoudou included a ‘brief synopsis’ of the events of the abduction.
She said that at least 80 Rwandan and Egyptian troops, officers, military observers and UN police, guarded by two armoured personnel carriers and 13 gun trucks accompanied the convoy of 3 buses carrying the Darfur civilians.
The aggressors, for their part, were mounted in seven or eight jeeps, according to the UN, suggesting their force was smaller than the UN force.
Nonetheless, Mindaoudou reported that the Unamid force strength was “not adequate for the task undertaken,” before finally reporting, “The patrol failed to stop the action of displaced being taken hostage.”
The cable further included further memoranda on the capacities of the UN peacekeepers, complaining of shortcomings in terms of “military contingents’ capacity, robustness, lack of commitment and training.”
The abducted displaced were later released at the intervention of the International Committee of the Red Cross, after interrogation by the rebel group.
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