By Opheera McDoom, Reuters
KHARTOUM — Ten African Union soldiers were killed and 50 were missing after armed men launched an assault on an AU base in Darfur, the worst attack on AU troops since they deployed in Sudan’s violent west in 2004.
The AU called it a “deliberate and sustained” assault by some 30 vehicles, which overran and looted the peacekeepers’ camp on Saturday night.
Sudan’s army and Darfur rebel movements initially blamed each other for the strike on the Haskanita base in southeastern Darfur. But one rebel source said the attack was carried out by breakaway rebel forces who wanted a seat at peace talks due to begin on Oct. 27 in Libya.
“Reports (indicate) 10 killed and 50 missing in action with seven seriously injured,” said AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni.
“Our camp is completely destroyed,” he said, adding it was the heaviest casualties suffered since the AU mission deployed.
“There is a feeling of shock.”
News of the violence drew swift and widespread condemnation.
“Not only was it a flagrant violation of the ceasefire but an unconscionable crime that breaks every convention and norm of international peacekeeping,” said Rodolphe Adada, the political head of a joint U.N.-AU mission due to replace the AU forces.
Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) spokesman Ahmed Hussein said: “It is not fair that the AU should be attacked in this way.”
One rebel source said the attack was by breakaway JEM rebels trying to get vehicles, weapons and power, and gain an invitation to talks. He blamed JEM’s sacked Vice President Bahr Idriss Abu Garda and former military chief Abdallah Banda.
Another source said they had been working with Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) Unity in the area.
An alliance between JEM and SLA Unity faction have become the largest military threat to Khartoum in recent months.
Abu Bakr Kadu, an SLA Unity commander, denied they were responsible, but said they had been fighting with government forces in Haskanita all day on Saturday until sunset.
“Maybe the AU was caught in the middle of the bombardment during our battles with the government. The government has been moving using the AU as cover and they are still inside Haskanita near the AU base,” he said.