U.N. peacekeeper killed in Darfur

140.jpgKHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — A U.N. peacekeeper was killed in Darfur, the first U.N. casualty since the world body began sending small reinforcements to a beleaguered African Union force deployed in the violent western Sudan region, the AU and the United Nations said Saturday.

The U.N. peacekeeper, Egyptian Lt. Col. Ehab Nazir, was shot by unidentified gunmen who looted his house late Friday in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state. He died hours later in an AU hospital at the African force’s headquarters about one kilometer (half mile) away, the AU said.

“The senseless killing of an innocent man in the confines of his residence is beyond comprehension,” said Hassan Gibril, the deputy head of the AU mission, at a memorial for the peacekeeper held Saturday at the AU’s headquarters.

“He is the first peacekeeper sent to us as reinforcement to be killed in Darfur,” AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni told The Associated Press by telephone.

The U.N. mission in Sudan confirmed the Egyptian officer’s death — the first time a blue helmet was slain in Darfur.

The unidentified gunmen who killed him where thought to be burglars, but an official close to the investigation said authorities would not exclude other motives for the killing. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

In Cairo, the foreign ministry deplored the Egyptian officer’s death and deeply condemned in a statement the “sinful aggression” in which Nazir became the “casualty of an attack by armed elements.”

African Union faces increasing hostility

The AU has faced increased hostility from warring factions in Darfur, and has lost 19 of its own peacekeepers since it first deployed in June 2004.

“Not a month goes by without a new killing, it’s very difficult,” AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni said.

The U.N. began deploying some 180 staff to Darfur in December as reinforcement to the overwhelmed 7,000-strong AU mission.

This “light support package” is part of a broader agreement that should lead to 3,000 U.N. peacekeepers moving into Darfur in 2007, but the AU and U.N. both acknowledge that even the first batch of 180 reinforcements have not yet all arrived.

The Sudanese government of President Omar al-Bashir has rejected a U.N. resolution for some 22,000 U.N. peacekeepers to replace the AU in Darfur, where over 200,000 people have been killed and 2,5 million chased from their homes in four years of fighting.

Since then, Khartoum, the U.N. and the AU continue to negotiate a compromise deal for U.N. forces to slowly beef up world efforts to end Darfur’s spiraling violence.

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