African Union troops patrolling the Darfur region of Sudan. Five AU peacekeepers were killed by unidentified gunmen on Monday, April 2, 2007.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos.
By Associated Press
April 2, 2007, 6:00 AM EDT
KHARTOUM, Sudan -- Unidentified gunmen killed five African Union soldiers guarding a "water point" near the border with Chad in the deadliest attack on the peacekeepers since their deployment in 2004, an AU spokesman said Monday.
The spokesman, Noureddine Mezni, said the attackers fled the scene after AU troops killed three of them in an exchange of fire.
The death toll in Sunday's attack took to 16 the number of AU peacekeepers killed since the AU force arrived in Darfur nearly three years ago. An AU officer has also been kidnapped and held hostage since December when he was abducted in Darfur.
Mezni said the AU troops retrieved the bodies of the three attackers along with their weapons, which he said were being examined in a bid to determine their identity.
He declined to disclose the nationalities of the AU soldiers killed, saying more information would be made available in a statement to be released later.
Mezni did not know whether the "water point" the soldiers were guarding was a water distribution center or a water well being used by refugees in the area.
AU soldiers work as an overwhelmed peacekeeping force in troubled Darfur, where violence between rebels and the government broke out four years ago.
Sudan's government has rejected a more-robust peacekeeping force requested by the United Nations, but the latest attack on the AU troops is certain to add pressure on the Khartoum government to accept the proposed 22,000-strong U.N. contingent.
More than 200,000 people have died in nearly four years of fighting in Darfur, and the conflict is spilling over into the Central African Republic and Chad, where hundreds of thousands of Darfur's 2.5 million homeless have fled.
"The AU mission is very concerned about the increasing number of attacks and aggressions against our troops," Mezni said.
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AU soldiers killed in Darfur attack
The African Union peacekeeping contingent has faced renewed violence in Darfur
Unidentified gunmen have killed five African Union peacekeepers in the Darfur region of western Sudan, the heaviest death toll suffered by the African force in one day since late 2004.
A spokesman said four soldiers were killed in the shooting and the fifth died of his wounds on Monday morning.
"Four were killed and one seriously injured while the attackers lost three combatants," Nureddin Mezni said.
"This is the biggest number of (AU) casualties in one day since the African Union mission started operating," he said.
The attack comes amid fresh violence in Darfur. On Saturday, a helicopter carrying AMIS' deputy commander came under fire.
Helicopter under fire
According to Mezni, Sunday's attack brought to 15 the number of AU troops killed in Darfur since they were first deployed.
Another soldier has been missing for months.
He gave no indication as to who might have been behind the shooting.
A helicopter carrying AMIS' deputy commander was attacked Saturday as it was on its way from Zalengei in western Darfur to the AMIS headquarters in El-Fasher. Nobody was injured.
Sunday's attack on the peacekeepers comes amid increasing ethnic unrest in Darfur, where at least 62 members of an Arab tribe were killed in an attack on Saturday.
The AU has 7,000 troops in Darfur but is under-funded and ill-equipped.
Only one of three negotiating rebel groups signed a peace deal with the Khartoum government in Abuja in May last year.
The agreement has made little impact, with splinter groups involved in the renewed violence.
According to the UN, at least 200,000 people have died and more than two million have fled their homes since the conflict began in February 2003.