Sudanese authorities have criticised Unamid, the United Nations, and the African Union for not taking responsibility for the “crimes” allegedly committed by peacekeepers near Kass in South Darfur on 23 and 24 April.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly condemned the incidents, and accused the joint UN-AU peacekeeping Mission in Darfur (Unamid) of seeking to cover up the crimes.
According to Unamid, a group of armed men opened fire on a peacekeepers’ patrol at a water well near Kass last Thursday evening. Four of the assailants were killed in the ensuing gunfight, and one was injured. Two peacekeepers sustained injuries too.
On Friday morning, another Unamid patrol was reportedly attacked near the mission’s base in Kass. Four peacekeepers were wounded, a spokesman for Unamid told Radio Dabanga.
Unamid head Abiodun Bashua strongly denied that the peacekeepers attacked civilians. “In both incidents, Unamid troops returned fire, but did not initiate any shooting; they only acted to protect themselves,” he stressed in a statement on Saturday.
Bashua stated that the mission has evidence that “the attackers, who were riding on horses and camels, were armed with AK-47 assault rifles, with which they shot at the peacekeepers”. The peacekeepers’ response therefore was “appropriate and proportional”.
Sudan Tribune reported that its correspondent in South Darfur cited Unamid patrol soldiers as saying that a group of gunmen tried to steal their vehicle, which forced them to use their weapons.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry described Unamid’s reaction as an “attempt to cover up the heinous crime committed by its troops in Kass, the violation of its mandate, and international and humanitarian norms and laws”. It regretted that Unamid, the UN, and the AU are seeking “to criminalise innocent victims, instead of offering condolences to their families and the Sudanese government”.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Ministry demanded from Unamid to “acknowledge its mistakes, and apologise to the victims’ families”, and from the AU and the UN to take the necessary measures to bring the perpetrators to trial, and offer compensation to the relatives of the victims.
According to the ministry, peacekeepers in Kass on Thursday opened fire on a group of 40 members of a local “rescue team” tracing stolen livestock. They “were not involved in the hijack of the mission’s vehicle”. The statement said that two people were killed instantly. Four others were taken to the Unamid base near Kass, where they were “liquidated in cold blood”.
Following this incident, “thousands of relatives of the victims” besieged the mission’s base on Friday morning, demanding revenge and justice. The peacekeepers opened fire on them, including members of the Kass security committee and traditional leaders, who were trying to calm the situation. One man was killed, and several others were wounded.
The ministry also denounced the statements issued by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and the head of the AU Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, in which they said that the peacekeepers were attacked by gunmen, and returned fire in self-defence.
Ban Ki-moon had expressed his regrets about “the limited cooperation provided by the Government of Sudan in addressing these incidents”. The ministry replied that “the paradox is that the Sudanese army intervened, contained the situation, and recovered the hijacked car and returned it to Unamid”.
In a press conference in Khartoum on Wednesday, Jamal El Sheikh, head of the government delegation of the Sudan-UN-AU team developing Unamid’s departure from Darfur, and member of the government’s committee investigating the incidents, said that the peacekeepers had killed four civilians, taken hostage inside the mission’s base. A preliminary investigation concluded that the victims sustained various bullet wounds.
He also pointed out that 7,000 tribesmen gathered near the Unamid base in Kass on Friday, threatening to destroy the base if the perpetrators would not be punished, and demanding the “immediate payment of blood money”.
El Sheikh furthermore called Unamid’s claims that the peacekeepers were targeted, are “nothing but an attempt to drive a wedge between the Sudanese government and the AU”. He accused unnamed agents and countries of a hidden agenda behind the continued presence of the mission in Sudan.
The Sudanese mission at the UN in New York also issued a press release, considering the statement by Ban Ki-moon in which he expresses his regrets about the death of an Ethiopian peacekeeper in West Darfur as “unjust”. The UN Secretary-General had criticised the Sudanese authorities’ denial of a Unamid flight request for an emergency evacuation of the peacekeeper on Sunday, who died from his injuries not much later.
According to the Sudanese mission at the UN, the Ethiopian soldier fell from an observation tower and sustained serious injuries to his head. The Sudanese government had granted the required permission for an emergency flight, but he died before he could be evacuated.
The Sudanese government requested Unamid’s departure from the country in November last year, after more than 200 women in the village of Tabit in North Darfur were raped at the end of October, and the peacekeepers’ mission’s had demanded a thorough investigation.
President Al Bashir stated on 30 November that Unamid had become a “security burden” on the Sudan Armed Forces. “Instead of offering the Sudanese army support in protecting the civilians in the region, they are protecting the rebels”. Therefore, he said, Unamid should develop a “clear exit programme”. Khartoum has since insisted that 15,000 peacekeepers be withdrawn by the end of this year.
(Sources: Sudan Tribune, Sudan Vision Daily)