LUSAKA: Four Zambian soldiers on United Nations (UN) peacekeeping duties in Southern Sudan were recently shot and wounded by unidentified attackers. The incident took place near a locality known as Gali.
UN sources said the peacekeepers had been forced by armed men to turn back at the same place earlier in the day, and were retreating to the town of Diffra when they came under fire.
The Zambian Minister of Defence, Dr Kalombo Mwansa confirmed the incident and said the four were in a convoy when an unknown armed gang ambushed them.
"Four of our soldiers were shot in an ambush. One soldier was shot in the chest but all the victims are now in stable condition in a hospital in Khartoum where they were evacuated after the incident," Dr Mwansa said.
The incident took place in the oil-rich Abyei region that is bitterly disputed between the government in Khartoum and the Southern Sudan administration. The Abyei administration immediately blamed the Sudanese Army, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) for the ambush.
"Armed elements belonging to Sudan Armed Forces camouflaged in police uniformâwith intention to destabilise the security of the area have this evening attacked a force of the United Nations," said a spokesman for the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Abyei.
"This was a clear plan and an act of the National Congress party (Sudan's ruling party) to sabotage withdrawal of the unauthorised forces because they know they have forces which are illegally deployed in the area like the 300+ troops they have in Goli," he said, But a spokesman for SAF denied any involvement in the ambush in an interview with Sudanese television.
He denied that the attack was carried out by government forces, claiming that there were several armed civilians with no link to the army carrying guns in the contested region. "The Sudan armed forces were not party to an ambush attack laid on forces of the United Nations in Abyei," he said.
The UN Mission in Sudan condemned the attack and called for an emergency meeting of all sides. "We condemn this act against peacekeepers who are discharging their duties to try to help maintain peace and security in Abyei," said the UN spokesman.
The French Foreign Ministry said it commended the commitment of the military contingents made available to the United Nations, whose work was essential to the implementation of the 2005 peace agreements and condemned the attack on the Zambian troops.
It said it was
It further encouraged the parties to swiftly negotiate a solution regarding the future status of Abyei, under the auspices of the African Union High Level Panel, within the framework of the borders defined by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague while respecting the legitimate aspirations of nomadic populations to be able to move freely through the Abyei territory.
France said it shares the concerns expressed by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, regarding the situation in Abyei. A peace accord signed by the two sides in January called on all forces to withdraw from the bitterly disputed region except the Special Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) of northern and southern personnel both army and police, alongside UN peacekeepers.
At the weekend before the ambush, the Joint Technical Committee (JTC) under the chairmanship of UN commander Major-General Moses Bisong Obi held several meetings to discuss a timetable for the effective deployment of JIUs and the withdrawal of all unauthorised forces from the Abyei area.
So, far there appears to be no progress on the withdrawal of unauthorised forces in the area which, under the comprehensive peace agreement that ended hostilities in Southern Sudan, Abyei is supposed to go for a referendum to decide whether it will join up with the south or remain part of the north. There is considerable jockeying between the two sides for the oil-rich region.
Until such a time as this issue is resolved the danger for peacekeepers in the area will continue. Informed sources have indicated that the ambush was an attempt to conceal the presence of unauthorised forces from the UN peacekeepers.
Zambia has had a battalion and a police contingent in Sudan since the beginning of peacekeeping operation there and Zambia army battalions have been doing shifts. The UN has some 9,000 troops and 700 international police officers enforcing a 2005 peace deal that ended the civil war between the ethnic African south and Sudan's Arab-dominated government.
(Sila Press Agency)