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Darfur rebels condemn killings of 7 peacekeepers
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    KHARTOUM, Sudan — The two main Darfur rebel groups condemned on Thursday an attack that killed seven peacekeepers from a joint U.N.-African Union force and wounded nearly two dozen.
    The United Nations said Tuesday’s attack involved about 200 gunmen on horseback and in SUVs mounted with anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons. The U.N. did not blame any group for the attack, but the description of gunmen on horseback strongly suggests they belong to the janjaweed militia of pro-government Arab nomads.
    Mohammed Bashir, a senior member of the rebel Sudanese Liberation Movement, described the attack as ‘‘terrorist and coward.’’ The rebel Justice and Equality Movement also distanced itself from the attack in a statement that called the ambush a ‘‘sinful aggression.’’
    The U.N. said a patrol of 61 Rwandan soldiers, 10 civilian police officers and two military observers was on its way back to its camp after investigating recent killings of civilians in North Darfur state when it was ambushed by militants driving vehicles armed with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. They fought fierce gunbattles that lasted more than two hours, U.N. officials said. Five Rwandan soldiers and two police officers, one from Ghana and the other from Uganda, were killed.
    The ambush took place near the village of Umm Hakibah, about 60 miles southeast of the North Darfur capital, El Fasher.
    The U.N.-AU mission known as UNAMID deployed Jan. 1 with about 9,000 soldiers and police officers. But it has since struggled to fulfill its peacekeeping mission, hindered by a lack of crucial equipment, including attack helicopters.
    The force is authorized to have 26,000 members, but it is faced with chronic shortages of staff and equipment and less-than-adequate cooperation from the Sudanese government.
    The peacekeepers mostly patrol Darfur, helping protect unarmed civilians in the many camps of the displaced and mediate between fighting factions. But they often have little access to wide swaths of the remote western Sudanese region roughly the size of France.
    The peacekeeping force has been unable to persuade the U.S. and other governments to supply attack and transport helicopters, surveillance aircraft, military engineers and logistical support it needs to safely navigate Darfur.
    The Darfur conflict has claimed up to 300,000 lives and uprooted 2.5 million people since ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in 2003. Critics accuse Sudan of arming janjaweed Arab militias that have terrorized Darfur villages — a charge Khartoum denies.
    The U.N. and AU have tried for months to open new peace talks between Sudan and rebel groups, which have splintered into more than two dozen factions, following the failure of a 2005 agreement to stem violence. But most rebel chiefs are boycotting the negotiations.
    Initially, African Union peacekeepers were deployed to patrol Darfur, but staff and equipment shortages left them ill-prepared to fend off attacks. In October, 10 AU peacekeepers were killed in an ambush on a military base in northern Darfur blamed on rebels.
    The joint U.N.-AU force was meant to beef up security in Darfur, but banditry and other violence against both peacekeepers and civilians continue. There have been at least seven attacks on the joint force over the past six months.
    Earlier this year, the U.N. said suffering in Darfur has worsened, forcing tens of thousands of people to be uprooted from their homes. The U.N. World Food Program said it had to cut food rations because of increasing banditry against its drivers in the region.
    One key stumbling block to the U.N.-AU force has been the Sudanese government’s reluctance to allow non-African troops into the region.

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