Senegal threatens withdrawal of troops from Darfur

Monday, October 1, 2007

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who threatened troop withdrawal from Darfur Monday.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade pushed for an immediate investigation into the deaths of 12 African Union(AU) troops who were killed in a raid on a peacekeeping base in the Darfur region of Sudan. He stated that he would remove Senegalese troops from the AU force if the investigation found the pacificators were unequipped to defend themselves.

In what was called "...the heaviest loss of life and biggest attack on the African Mission," by AU spokesperson Noureddine Mezni, 30 vehicles and a force of 1,000 armed rebels raided the AU base in the town of Haskanita just after sunset on Saturday. The base was completely destroyed. One of the soldiers killed in the attack was Senegalese, while the majority were Nigerian. One Malian soldier, and one soldier from Botswana were also killed in the raid, according to AU spokesman Assane Ba.

"If they died because they didn't have the arms to defend themselves, I will withdraw all the Senegalese ... I am not going to send people to be slaughtered," said President Wade. This would strike a heavy blow to the AU mission in Darfur, as Senegalese troops make up one of the largest sections of the peacekeeping force.

Map showing location of Sudan.

The United Nations also spoke out vehemently against the attack on Monday. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the rebels in the "...strongest possible terms,", while simultaneously urging a renewed commitment to peace in preparation for the scheduled October peace talks in Libya.

The AU has been bemoaning their lack of sufficient funds in Darfur for years, citing a lack of military helicopters, rapid response vehicles, and an inadequate number of troops which hinder the force in their mission to improve the stability of the region.

"People did deployment on the premise that there was an (peace) agreement and they were coming to inspect and act as observers -- there was no planning for people to be able to defend themselves," AU force commander Martin Agwai said. In addition, he said that while the AU was in the process of creating new emergency security plans, not much more could be done without an increase to the funds and troop levels of the bases in Darfur. This will hopefully come with the deployment of the hybrid United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) force by the end of the year, which will raise the troop levels from 7,000 to 26,000 soldiers.

As for the interim time period, Agwai added that, "We peacekeepers are determined to continue,".