KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan has accused a peacekeeping force in Darfur of killing seven civilians in three separate incidents last week, threatening to exacerbate the government’s strained relations with the international mission.
The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) denied the allegations, saying the peacekeepers had responded in self-defense to two attacks on April 23 and 24, which it said had left four assailants dead and six peacekeepers wounded.
UNAMID has been deployed in Darfur since 2007 with a mandate to stem violence against civilians in a conflict that has seen the International Criminal Court issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and genocide.
Sudan asked UNAMID late last year to prepare to leave amid a dispute over attempts by the mission to investigate an alleged mass rape by Sudanese soldiers in the Darfur town of Tabit. The government denies any wrongdoing by the soldiers.
The foreign ministry said in a statement that peacekeepers in Kass, 85 km (50 miles) northwest of Nyala, killed five tribesmen pursuing bandits who had stolen one of their vehicles on April 23.
The statement said the mission fired on civilians twice more an hour later and the next morning, killing two more people.
UNAMID had earlier released statements saying its troops did not initiate any shooting but had returned fire from assailants carrying assault rifles and riding horses and camels. It mentioned only one attack on April 23 and another on April 24.
UNAMID says 61 peacekeepers have been killed in Darfur since the joint force, one of the world’s largest such operations, was deployed in 2007.
Law and order have collapsed in much of Darfur, where mainly non-Arab rebels took up arms in 2003 against the Arab-led government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination.
Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Crispian Balmer