By Alaa Shahine
KHARTOUM, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Gunmen have killed a South African peacekeeper and wounded another in Sudan's western Darfur region, the United Nations/African Union force (UNAMID) said on Thursday.
The killing brings to 11 the number of peacekeepers who have been killed in action since the beginning of this year when the joint mission took over from the African Union force.
Violence against the under-staffed force has surged in the last three months, during which 10 peacekeepers were killed, underlying the difficulty of securing the vast region.
Noureddine Mezni, UNAMID spokesman, said the gunmen opened fire at a group of nine South African peacekeepers guarding a water point near the town of Kutum in north Darfur.
"The peacekeepers returned fire," he said, and the attackers fled. The two soldiers were evacuated to UNAMID camp in Kutum suffering gunshot wounds, he said.
"One of them died and the other, a female soldier, is alive," Mezni said. The families of the two have been informed of the incident, he said.
With little more than 11,000 personnel, the force is well short of its promised strength of 26,000 peacekeepers.
Western diplomats and U.N. officials blame the slow deployment on obstructions by Sudan, U.N. bureaucracy and a shortage of helicopters and other transport equipment.
Sudan, however, said it had made significant progress recently to speed up the deployment of the force.
A Sudanese government official said Western powers, particularly the United States, acknowledged this fact.
"In private they say 'we know this issue (UNAMID) is not just your responsibility'," the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "But they won't say this in public."
Western members of the U.N. Security Council have made progress on deploying the force one of their key demands to suspend a possible arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
The ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo accused Bashir in July of masterminding a campaign of genocide in Darfur. Sudan says it does not recognise the court.
International experts estimate that 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have fled their homes since the Darfur conflict flared in 2003 when mostly African rebels rose against the government, charging it with neglect. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000 people.
Mezni said the female soldier was shot in the chest but was in a stable condition. She was being treated at the UNAMID clinic in El-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, he added.
In October, a Nigerian sergeant was shot dead after up to 60 armed bandits ambushed his convoy. In early July, seven members of the force were killed and another 22 were wounded in an ambush by militia fighters in North Darfur.
A week later, another Nigerian officer was killed in a car-jacking incident in west Darfur.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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