- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007

NEW YORK — At least one African country, Senegal, threatened to pull out of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s Darfur region yesterday, even as officials pledged the mission would not be delayed by a bloody weekend attack by rebels.

“Despite the casualties and loss of life, we will persevere in our efforts to keep the fragile peace on the ground while all eyes are set on the negotiation table,” said Nigerian Gen. Martin Luther Agwai, commander of the hybrid peacekeeping force.

But Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade told reporters in Dakar that he would withdraw his troops from Darfur if it was determined they were not given the equipment to defend themselves.

“I am not going to send people to be slaughtered,” he said. Senegal is one of the largest contributors to the AU force.

The Sudanese government and rebel leaders immediately condemned the attack, and suspicion is focusing on splinter groups seeking to shoot their way to a seat at the peace talks at the end of the month.

White House officials urged the United Nations to get the hybrid force in place quickly.

“What the president wants is that U.N. peacekeeping force to get there as soon as possible, because we are committed to ending the violence and providing assistance to people who are suffering,” said spokeswoman Dana Perino. “The human disaster that we face in that area is very troubling.”

Inhabitants of the dry, inhospitable Darfur region have been battered by a civil war pitting the government in Khartoum and its militia allies against separatist groups. As peace efforts accelerated in recent months, several rebel groups splintered and turned on one another, attacking civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian aid convoys.

A shadowy rebel group attacked a remote peacekeeping outpost over the weekend, killing 10 and looting weapons, equipment and vehicles. Victims from the deadliest attack to date on the peacekeeping mission came from Nigeria, Senegal and Botswana.

Eight wounded peacekeepers were flown to Khartoum. Nine soldiers were still missing late last night.

The U.N. Security Council met for three hours yesterday afternoon, but stopped short of issuing a formal condemnation while trying to obtain more details on the attack, diplomats said.

Speculation centered on an offshoot of either the Justice and Equality Movement or the Sudanese Liberation Army.

Darfur’s main rebel groups are to meet Oct. 28 in Tripoli, Libya, which is hosting the peace talks. But violence has soared, aid workers and political observers said.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said yesterday that attacks on relief groups have shot up 150 percent in the 12 months ending in June.

The African Union has struggled to hold its isolated ground in Darfur, where it has deployed 7,000 poorly armed and underequipped peacekeepers.

The United Nations will join the AU in a hybrid force combining 26,000 primarily African soldiers, European equipment and technology, and international logistical support. The joint mission in Darfur will be at operational strength by the end of the year.

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