Four peacekeepers were slain and eight injured in an ambush in West Darfur, the African Union and United Nations joint mission to the troubled region said Wednesday.
It remains unclear who was behind the Tuesday evening attack less than a mile and a half from the mission regional headquarters, which involved a Nigerian military patrol. Hit with heavy fire from several directions, the peacekeepers returned fire, according to a brief statement released by the mission.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday urged the government of Sudan to investigate the attacks and prosecute those responsible. He also expressed condolences for Nigeria.
The Sudanese region has been wracked for nearly a decade by a conflict that began with rebels waging war against the government in Khartoum, complaining about the marginalization of the western region.
President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of murder and other war crimes committed during Sudan's crackdown on the rebellion, estimated to have killed 35,000 people. At least 100,000 more people are believed to have died from disease and hunger caused by the campaign.
The joint mission in Darfur has been in place nearly five years, charged with protecting civilians and helping ensure the security of humanitarian aid to the area still subject to episodes of violence. The Darfur effort is the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission, with 26,000 personnel, but has struggled with shortfalls in equipment and infrastructure, according to its website.
More than 40 peacekeepers have been killed since the Darfur mission was deployed in 2008, the U.N. news agency said Wednesday.Spurts of violence have continued in Darfur even as other tension has eased in the region. Sudan recently came to agreement with South Sudan, which broke away from the country last year after decades of war, on the contentious issue of oil exports.
South Sudan, in turn, has been accused of abuses of its own since independence. Amnesty International said Wednesday that a government campaign to disarm civilians, launched in March after outbreaks of tribal violence in Jonglei state, led to civilians being shot, tortured and raped by government security forces. The human rights group urged a separate U.N. mission in South Sudan to increase its protection efforts.
Photo: A peacekeeper with the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) rests in a hospital in El Geneina, Sudan, on Wednesday after an ambush Tuesday night that killed four mission members. Credit: Albert Gonzalez Farran / African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur