Senegal Threatens to Pull Out of A.U. Force
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
JOHANNESBURG, Oct. 1 -- Senegal threatened Monday to withdraw its more than 500 troops from Darfur, moving the African Union's beleaguered peacekeeping mission closer to collapse after a spectacular militia attack over the weekend left 10 A.U. soldiers dead and dozens more missing or wounded.
The attack, the deadliest since A.U. forces arrived in the Sudanese region three years ago, highlighted the vulnerability of a 7,000-person force that is outgunned and ill-equipped to quell a conflict that has grown steadily more complex.
It also injected a new and unsettling element into efforts to gradually replace the A.U. force with a much larger one to be led by the United Nations but staffed largely by troops from African nations. That transition is scheduled to begin soon and take many months.
Senegal, with the third-largest number of troops in Darfur now, was expected to be a key player in any future force. But Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said all of his nation's military personnel will come home if an investigation reveals that the African Union lacked appropriate firepower to repel the attack.
Numerous news reports have said that A.U. troops ran out of ammunition early in the fight. Killed were seven soldiers from Nigeria, one from Mali, one from Botswana and one from Senegal, news reports said.
"If they died because they didn't have the arms to defend themselves, I will withdraw all the Senegalese," Wade told reporters in Dakar, the capital, according to news reports. "I am not going to send people to be slaughtered."
Striking before dawn Sunday, a reported 1,000 fighters with 30 trucks overran the A.U. base in Haskanita, which was defended by about 150 troops who eventually scattered in the face of the larger, more heavily armed force.
News reports said the attackers rampaged through the base, burning tents and looting vehicles. The Sudanese military, which long has had brittle relations with the A.U. soldiers, eventually drove off the attackers. At least 20 of the African Union troops were still missing Monday night.
The White House, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other officials from around the world condemned the attack and demanded justice, although it was not immediately clear which of the armed groups operating in Darfur was responsible. The region has at least a dozen militia groups, as an insurrection that began with an attack on government forces in 2003 has splintered and splintered again.
The fight is largely about resources and political power, as Darfur's dark-skinned majority battles Sudanese government forces and their allies among the region's Arabic-speaking Janjaweed militias. Some rebels have come to see the A.U. force as an enemy allied with government soldiers.
As rebels in light trucks move around a region nearly the size of France, millions of civilians have fled their villages on foot and on the backs of donkeys, mostly ending up in grim, densely packed resettlement camps. As many as 450,000 people have died from disease and violence.
The A.U. troops' ability to protect civilians and relief workers has deteriorated amid untamed violence. The mission's officers complain that they lack capacity to patrol troubled areas. Five Senegalese troops were killed in an April attack.