African Union Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare on Sunday condemned the main rebel group in Sudan's troubled Darfur region for killing three of its peacekeepers in a shootout that also left two civilian drivers dead.
Two of the soldiers and two civilian drivers were killed following Saturday's clashes between fighters of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and troops from Nigeria, according to a statement released early by the pan-African body. A wounded soldier died on Sunday.
Konare said in a statement that he "unreservedly condemns the killings and holds the SLA responsible for this wicked and atrocious act."
He reiterated his appeal to the Sudanese government to cooperate fully with the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) and take all necessary measures to protect AMIS personnel and the civilian population in Darfur.
Konare urged all the parties to "fully respect their commitments under the 2004 N'djamena ceasefire agreement and subsequent agreements, and avoid acts that could undermine the AU efforts in Darfur."
In the statement, Konare said he has decided to "dispatch a high level team to Darfur, to provide support to AMIS leadership and the entire personnel of AMIS and hold discussions to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future."
The peacekeepers were the first casualties suffered by the AU mission since arriving in Darfur in April 2004, to monitor the 2004 N'djamena ceasefire agreement. After first deploying with less than 500 peacekeepers, the mission has grown to 6,200 with support from the European Union, the United States and others.
Also on Sunday, the African Union Mission in Sudan(AMIS) announced that armed men in the country's western region of Darfur abducted 18 of its personnel and took them hostage.
Jean-Baptiste Natama, the acting head of the AMIS, said the hostages included military observers, civil police, a US representative in the mission and a representative of the Sudan Liberation Movement, a main Darfur rebel group.
He said that the AU has sent a rescue team to Attina bordering Chad after the abduction took place in the area, pointing out that no information was received on the abductors' identity.
AU officials described the incident as "serious and regrettable" and warned of a comprehensive revision for their operations in Darfur.
Clashes flared up in Darfur in February 2003 when local farmers took up arms against the government, accusing it of neglecting the barren area. Thousands of people have been killed and more than a million displaced in the violence.
The sixth round of peace talks began last month between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebel groups in Nigeria to try to end a conflict in Darfur.
Last week, the AU accused Sudanese government forces of carrying out what appeared to be coordinated attacks in Darfur along with the Janjaweed militia, a charge denied by the Sudanese government.
(Xinhua News Agency October 10, 2005)