Unidentified assailants have shot and wounded four United Nations peacekeepers while they were on patrol in the disputed Abyei area of Sudan today. The four blue helmets, all from Zambia, were shot around 4:40 p.m. as they returned from a regular patrol to the north of the town of Abyei. The peacekeepers were evacuated to Abyei for medical treatment and one of them is reported to be in a serious condition. Kouider Zerrouk, a spokesperson for the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), said the peacekeepers had been forced by armed men to turn back at the village of Goli earlier in the day, and were returning to the town of Diffra when they came under fire from unknown attackers.
“We condemn this act against peacekeepers who are discharging their duties to try to help maintain peace and security in Abyei,” he said.
UNMIS has started an investigation into the shootings, which occurred on the day that the north and southern sides had agreed to start withdrawing their unauthorized forces from Abyei as part of a pact facilitated by the UN.
That agreement, welcomed by UNMIS, is part of a broader effort aimed at de-escalating tensions in an area where deadly clashes have claimed dozens of lives since the start of the year, when a referendum on Abyei’s status that was supposed to have been held never took place amid disagreement on voter eligibility.
Southern Sudan will secede from the rest of the country in July as a result of a separate referendum held in January and both north and south claim Abyei.