At least seven peacekeepers have been killed and more than 20 injured after a horde of 200 gunmen on horseback and in jeeps attacked the United Nations and African Union force in Darfur. It is the worst attack the new peace mission (Unamid) has suffered.
A patrol had been investigating a recent series of clashes in north Darfur when it was ambushed on Tuesday afternoon by scores of armed militiamen packed into at least 40 vehicles mounted with machine guns, and a two-hour firefight ensued.
Shereen Zorba, a spokeswoman for Unamid, said the peacekeeping force was "outraged" by the attack.
"We are not party to the conflict," she said. "Our mandate – to protect civilians – should be respected by all parties."
No one knows for sure just how many different "parties" there now are in Darfur, as the five-year conflict has become increasingly complex. Conservative estimates put the number of armed groups controlling different parts of the western Sudanese region at more than 30.
The Um Haqiba area where the peacekeepers were attacked lies between sections controlled by two different armed groups, both nominally aligned with the government. One is a group of Arab militia, commonly referred to as Janjaweed. The other is a faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) that signed a flawed 2006 peace deal. Its leader, Minni Minawi, was rewarded with a position in Khartoum as a presidential adviser.
But in recent months Mr Minawi has been said to be considering resigning his post and returning to fight the government. Much of the recent unrest in north Darfur has been as a result of clashes between Mr Minawi's forces and those aligned with the government.
The peacekeepers ambushed on Tuesday had been investigating the death of two Minawi soldiers, who the rebel force claimed had been killed by Arab militia.
Ms Zorba said it was too early to say who was responsible for the attack. An investigative team, led by the deputy force commander, Karenzi Karake, arrived in Um Haqiba yesterday.
The dead included five Rwandan soldiers, a Ghanaian and a Ugandan police officer. Among the 23 injured peacekeepers, six were in a severe condition and needed to be evacuated to Khartoum for treatment.Reuse content