One Unamid peacekeeper was killed and another wounded in an attack on a relief convoy in North Darfur on Wednesday.
The South African soldiers were providing security for a joint convoy made up of 17 vehicles of the World Food Programme, one UNHCR vehicle, and six vehicles belonging to the Darfur Regional Authority, Unamid spokesman Ashraf Eisa told Radio Dabanga.
He reported that unknown gunmen in five Land Cruisers opened fire on the relief convoy en route from Kutum to Kabkabiya on Wednesday evening.
In the ensuing firefight, one South African peacekeeper was killed and another was wounded. One of the attackers was killed while the others managed to escape, Eisa said.
He added that none of the vehicles were damaged.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) spokesman Brig. Gen. Xolani Mabanga confirmed that the South Africans were escorting the convoy to a specific point from where the Rwanda battalion, also part of Unamid, would take over the duty.
“The convoy came under fire 25 kilometres from the exchange point … the security detail took up defensive positions and was able to hold ground. A South African was unfortunately fatally wounded during the exchange of fire with heavily armed rebels. Another soldier was wounded in the firefight and he was evacuated to El Fasher for treatment and is now in a stable condition,” Brig. Gen. Xolani Mabanga said.
A quick response force was dispatched from the Unamid base ay Kutum and support requested from the Rwanda battalion at Kabkabiya. This was not forthcoming due to nightfall, but the peacekeepers are apparently safe.
The South African Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the Chief of the South African National Defence, Gen. Solly Shoke, and the Chief of Joint Operations, Lt. Gen. Duma Mdutyana expressed their condolences to the family the deceased soldier and wish the injured member a speedy and comprehensive recovery.
The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, made a joint statement condemning the attack: "The Chairperson and the Secretary-General express their sincere condolences to the family of the fallen peacekeeper and to the Government of the Republic of South Africa. They wish the wounded a full and speedy recovery."
In the statement, Ban and Dlamini-Zuma call on the parties to the conflict in Darfur to respect the integrity of the peacekeeping force. They urge the Sudanese authorities to investigate the attack promptly and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Operation Cordite of the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) started in July 2004 with the deployment of staff officers and observers to Darfur in Sudan in support of the AU Mission in Sudan (Amis).
Not too long afterwards, South Africa was asked to deploy additional observers and staff officers to supplement then existing Sudan deployments. This ended when Amis was terminated in December 2007 to become the first hybrid AU/UN mission on 1 January 2008, called Unamid. In November 2008 the SANDF component of Unamid was increased to around the 800 mark, a figure that has remained constant since then.
Last year, President Jacob Zuma, as commander-in-chief of the SANDF, extended the South African deployment in Darfur by one year. Keeping the 850 soldiers in Sudan until March 31 was estimated to cost ZAR369,079,895 ($24 million) for the 12 months.
However, as previously reported by Radio Dabanga, in a statement in mid-February, President Zuma announced that the country’s involvement will be terminated effective 1 April, citing domestic austerity measures.
South African troops have seen several incidences of combat in Darfur, and have lost a number of soldiers in the process. On 27 September last year an 8 South African Infantry Battalion soldier was killed in an ambush in Darfur while escorting a Unamid logistics convoy. The attack came just a month after a similar attack by a rebel group on another Unamid convoy in the same area.
Sources: Unamid, SANDF, defenceweb.co.za