NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday denounced the killing on Sunday of five African Union peacekeepers in northern Darfur, saying the attack underlines the need for an AU-U.N. hybrid force to calm Sudan’s tumultuous region.
“That really illustrates the necessity and urgency of dispatching hybrid peacekeepers to Darfur,” said Mr. Ban, who added that he would discuss the matter at a meeting with AU Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare later this month.
Mr. Ban and regional leaders have been negotiating with Sudanese President Omar Bashir to send a joint peacekeeping force for Darfur, where battles between well-armed rebels and government soldiers or paramilitary groups have displaced more than 2 million people and killed at least 200,000.
The hybrid force would be better armed and almost three times as large as the AU contingent, which has been operating within strict limits set by Khartoum.
AU forces came under fire near the Chadian border late Sunday as they guarded a watering point used by refugees. “Four were killed, and one seriously injured while the attackers lost three combatants,” said AU spokesman Nureddin Mezni.
The fifth died of his wounds when severe weather conditions made helicopter evacuation impossible.
Fifteen African Union peacekeepers have been killed in Darfur since they first deployed in 2004, according to Mr. Mezni.
Mr. Ban, who just returned from a 10-day trip to the Middle East, spoke to Lt. Gen. Bashir on the sidelines of an Arab League summit last week.
The secretary-general has been trying to jump-start diplomatic efforts, but Arab and Islamic leaders, including Sudan’s neighbors, have been reluctant to apply much pressure to Khartoum.
Andrew S. Natsios, U.S. special envoy to Darfur, told Mr. Ban in a meeting here yesterday that the United States, backed by Britain, is “seriously considering” sanctions against the Sudanese government and cutting of foreign investment, according to a U.N. official.
When Mr. Ban asked for more time for diplomacy, Mr. Natsios reminded him that Congress can do what it likes, independent of the White House, and there is nothing the administration can do if lawmakers decide to rush it.
Questioned by reporters yesterday, Mr. Ban said that sanctions were the business of the U.N. Security Council, but he thought it was too soon.
“Before we talk about sanctions, let me have some more political space to deal with this dialogue with them,” he said.
Mr. Ban said he will dispatch a peacekeeping planning unit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, next week to meet with AU counterparts and plan the next phase of the deployment.
Their reports will shape discussions between Mr. Ban and Mr. Konare when they meet in New York on April 16 and 17.