Unamid denies killing civilians in South Darfur

Conflicting reports about two deadly incidents in Kass by the AU-UN mission in Darfur and state officials arise, as the latter claims the peacekeepers killed at least six civilians.

The UN-AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur said that its troops killed at least four unidentified armed men who attacked them in two separate incidents in Kass on Thursday and Friday. South Darfur state officials and a witness, however, claim that the peacekeepers killed at least six civilians during these incidents.

Unknown attackers opened fire on troops of the UN-AU Mission in Darfur (Unamid) on Thursday at 6pm in Kass, 85 km northwest of Nyala. The ensuing gunfight resulted in at least four attackers killed, spokesman Ashraf Eisa told Radio Dabanga. “Six peacekeepers and one of the attackers were wounded.” The wounded gunman and the bodies were handed to the Sudanese police, a press statement by the mission said today.

Nigerian peacekeepers were guarding a water point when a group of “about 40 armed men on camels and horses” attacked, Eisa said. The attackers initially made off with one of the Unamid vehicles after shooting the driver. But the peacekeepers managed to recover it.

The second incident took place near Kass on Friday morning, Ashraf Eisa said, when a Unamid patrol en route from Nyala to Kass was ambushed. “This resulted in the injury of four peacekeepers, near the mission's base.”

State officials and a witness provided a different account of the incidents. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, the vice-president of the South Darfur legislative council claimed that the gunmen who attacked the Unamid troops at the water point were not the same people the peacekeepers opened fire on later.

“The Unamid troops believed that the people belonged to the militiamen and opened fire on them, killing six of them on the spot.”

“The peacekeepers were able to shoot the tires of the mission's vehicle stolen by three militiamen on Thursday afternoon,” Ibrahim Jibril Moada said. The perpetrators then fled into a certain direction. “Half an hour later, at about 6pm, a group of people came from the same direction as the militiamen towards the peacekeepers, who were still at the water point.

“When the Unamid troops saw the group, they opened fire on them immediately. The troops killed six of them on the spot, wounded three, and killed a number of horses.” The group turned out to be a rescue team assembled to trace the tracks of rustled livestock, Moada explained, and therefore its members were carrying arms.

No names of the killed and wounded have so far been released, so Radio Dabanga could not independently verify whether the victims were civilians or not.

A witness who claimed to be a member of the rescue team told Radio Dabanga: “We were on our way to search for livestock stolen by unknown gunmen. Suddenly, a group of Unamid troops opened fire at us. They killed six of us and injured three.”

Still surprised, he added: “We do not know the reasons for shooting at us. We did not threaten them, or fire any weapons […] One of us took of his turban and waved it at the Unamid troops, before they started to shoot.”

An account of the incident by Kass commissioner Mohamed Ibrahim Omar matches these reports. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, he said that the peacekeepers pursued three militiamen who had attempted to seize one of their vehicles at the water point in Kass. “During the chase, the peacekeepers came across a group of people that was on its way to El Gardud area, west of Kass. They were about to settle a matter of stolen cows with cattle thieves in El Gardud.

“The Unamid troops believed that the people belonged to the militiamen and opened fire on them, killing six of them on the spot, and injuring one,” commissioner Ibrahim Omar said.

Second incident

The second attack took place on Friday morning, when a Unamid patrol came from Nyala to Kass. The Kass commissioner and the legislative council's vice-president both claimed that residents of Kass town came under fire by Unamid guards when they gathered near the base the following day.

“Security forces guarding the mission's base opened fire on a delegation consisting of the locality's security committee, members of Thursday's rescue team, and administrative leaders, there to discuss the incident of the day before,” Moada said. He claimed that one person died and others were wounded. The delegation was headed by commissioner Ibrahim Omar.

Commissioner Omar confirmed that people of Kass, including relatives of the victims, gathered west of the mission's base. “The security committee of Kass locality moved to convince the gathered angry people to disperse. During this discussion, a force of Unamid came from Nyala. They opened fire into the air, injuring one of the residents.”

Governor accuses Unamid

In an interview with Ashorooq TV on Friday, the Governor of South Darfur accuses the peacekeepers of capturing some of the people on Thursday and killing them inside the nearby base of the mission. “I have taken all necessary steps for procedures that investigate what happened,” Maj. Gen. Adam Mahmoud Jarelnabi claimed.

The Unamid has been under fire by the Sudanese government since the mission requested to conduct more investigations into a mass rape by Sudanese soldiers in Tabit, North Darfur, at the end of October last year. Khartoum is demanding that 15,000 Unamid troops be withdrawn by the end of 2015. Sudan has shut Unamid's human rights office in Khartoum, expelled top UNDP officials Ali El Za'tari and the Dutch Yvonne Helle, and requested the mission to prepare an exit strategy for the Darfur region.