55 UNAMID peacekeepers freed after two-day rebel blockade

Khartoum, Sudan (PANA) - Darfurian rebels have freed 55 international peacekeepers after holding them for two days, the UN/African Union Peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said Tuesday.

"After a show of force and round-the-clock negotiations, the entire 55-person peacekeeping patrol of the Mission in Darfur, which had been blockaded in northwestern Darfur by armed rebels for nearly two days, was en route to its home base in Umm Baru this afternoon" UNAMID said in a statement.

UNAMID Joint Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari, praised his Force Commander, Lt.-Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba, the West Darfur Sector Commander, Brig.-Gen. Mansamusa Mondeh, and the troops and personnel involved in resolving the incident.

Gambari leads the 26,000-strong UNAMID, whose mandate includes the protection of civilians throughout the Darfur region.

“Our officers and their troops demonstrated true resolve, courage and compassion in facing down a large contingent of armed JEM rebels who were holding three UNAMID personnel,” Gambari said.

The troops included 46 Senegalese troops, a Yemeni officer, a Rwandan and Ghanaian, who were held on suspicion of aiding the Sudanese government troops to spy and were held due to what the rebels claimed was unauthorised entry.

“Our troops held their ground; they called in reinforcements and they refused to leave the area without all personnel back on the patrol, including the Yemeni police advisor and two Sudanese language assistants,” Gambari said. “This afternoon everyone has returned, without injury and without any conditionality.”

The peacekeeping contingent was blocked on 19 February while conducting a long-range patrol some 60 kilometres from its team site in Umm Baru, in the village of Shegeg Tova by more than 100 armed men belonging to the Justice and Equality Movement. The patrol consisted of 50 Senegalese troops along with three police advisors and two language assistants.

The troops were prepared to leave the area last night. However, as the language assistants and police advisor remained with the JEM forces, the contingent refused to move until all UNAMID personnel could be reassembled.

The Gambari condemned the blockage, noting that "any hostile act against a UN peacekeeper, including locally-recruited staff, is a violation of international humanitarian law and a possible war crime," he said.

The stand-off ended after the arrival of substantial peacekeeping reinforcements, as well as after repeated contacts with JEM leadership by UNAMID representatives.

"Our peacekeepers criss-cross Darfur every day to help bring security to civilians who continue to suffer the effects of conflict,” Gambari said. "We have a mandate to execute in all parts of Darfur. At the same time, we are supporting an ongoing and inclusive peace process, including implementation of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur. This deplorable action taken by JEM contradicts the spirit of this peace process, which most people in Darfur are welcoming.”

Gambari noted with appreciation offers by the Government of Sudan to assist in extricating the peacekeepers, which UNAMID had declined. “We used our own means and capabilities to resolve the situation,” he said. “We did it without violence, but with the quiet robust posture expected of UNAMID  peacekeepers. I salute them.”

He called on all the hold-out movements to join the peace process urgently in the interest of the people of Darfur.
-0- PANA AO/VAO 21Feb2012

21 february 2012 17:02:29

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