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Darfur rebels detain 49 AU-UN peacekeepers

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-02-20

Darfur's rebel group the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said Monday they had detained 49 international peacekeepers for entering "an area controlled by JEM without permission". Sudan's military said 58 peacekeepers were seized.

AFP - Rebels in Sudan's Darfur region said Monday they have detained 49 international peacekeepers and three suspected Sudanese intelligence agents for "investigation" after they entered a rebel-held area.

Sudan's military, citing the United Nations, said 58 members of the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission UNAMID were seized.

The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) captured the mostly Senegalese members of UNAMID on Sunday, said rebels' spokesman Gibril Adam Bilal, without specifying the location in the vast Darfur region of western Sudan.

"They came to an area controlled by JEM without permission and without informing JEM," Bilal said.

He said the rebels were holding them to probe why they entered rebel territory, "and to investigate the three Sudanese because we think they are members of Sudan's intelligence and security service".

A UNAMID spokeswoman said "there is a situation ongoing" but could not immediately give details.

The peacekeepers and their equipment were safe, said Bilal. Forty-six of them were from Senegal, including two officers, while there was one each from Yemen, Ghana and Rwanda.

Senegalese troops operate primarily in Darfur's northwest near the Chad border.

UNAMID has told the Sudan Armed Forces that the captives include 55 Senegalese soldiers and three African police, travelling in a convoy east of the West Darfur state capital of El Geneina, said army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad.

"They were surrounded by troops from the Justice and Equality Movement in 20 vehicles, who asked them to give up their weapons," he said.

"We received an official request from UNAMID for help," Saad added, but the military has ruled out a rescue mission because it would put the captives' lives at risk.

Instead, a committee has been formed in the North Darfur state capital of El Fasher -- also the UNAMID headquarters -- to monitor the situation, he said.

JEM, a key rebel group from Darfur, announced in January that it had chosen Gibril Ibrahim, a one-time university professor, to head the movement after his brother Khalil, its former leader, was killed.

The new chief denied JEM had fractured and said the group would follow the course set by his brother to seek "democratic" change.

The JEM and other rebel groups drawn from Darfur's non-Arab tribes rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003. In response, the government unleashed state-backed Janjaweed militia in a conflict that shocked the world and led to allegations of genocide.

Since then, much of the violence in the region has degenerated into banditry.

Early this month JEM released five Turks who, the group said, had been hired to dig wells for the Sudanese military. They were held for several months.

The United Nations estimates that at least 300,000 people have died as a result of the Darfur conflict, with about 300 killed in clashes last year. Almost two million people remain displaced.

The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10,000.

Last year the government signed a peace deal in Doha with an alliance of Darfur rebel splinter factions. JEM and other key rebel groups refused to sign the pact, saying it failed to address the Darfur problem at its roots.

President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court for alleged genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

Date created : 2012-02-20

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