Source AP ©

Senegal claims to pull its peacekeepers out of Darfur

Senegal may pull its peacekeepers out of Darfur region if the African Union is unable to ensure their safety.

The deaths of five Senegalese peacekeepers in Darfur a little over a week ago brought to 16 the number of peacekeepers killed in the region since African Union forces were sent there three years ago. Senegal has about 500 troops in the 7,000-strong African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan.

"If the African Union is not empowered and given the means to assure the safety of our people in the field, the government of Senegal could foresee a pullout of its peacekeepers," said the statement issued by the country's Council of Ministers, a group of 42 ministers that reports directly to the president.

The ministers' declaration contrasts sharply with the government's response in the days after the five troops were killed when their unit, which was guarding a water point near the Chad border, was attacked. Then, Col. Antoine Wardini, a spokesman for the Senegalese army, said: "This will not make us pull out. No way."

The council also deplored what it called "the absence of a clear willingness" to find a solution to the Darfur conflict.

The undermanned and underequipped AU force has been unable to stop violence in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.2 million forced to flee their homes in nearly four years of fighting between ethnic African rebels and the government, which is accused of backing ethnic Arab militia against the rebels.

The United Nations and Sudan agreed in November on a three-stage plan to strengthen the AU force, culminating with the deployment of a joint AU-U.N. force with 17,000 troops and 3,000 police officers. But Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has since backed off the deal, saying he would only allow a larger AU force, with technical and logistical support from the United Nations.

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