UN Council condemns "murderous attack" in Darfur

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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 2 (Reuters) The UN Security Council today condemned the ''murderous attack'' on African Union peacekeepers in Darfur amid sharp words over the identity of the perpetrators and how to punish them.

The policy statement, read at a formal meeting, demanded that ''no effort be spared'' to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of the attack ''reportedly committed by a rebel group.'' The statement was read by Ghanaian Ambassador Leslie Kojo Christian, the current council president.

The 15-nation body's formal response to the weekend attacks that resulted in the death of 10 peacekeepers had been delayed because of a dispute over naming the culprits. Another 10 soldiers were wounded and three are still missing.

After the statement was adopted, Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters it was not as strong as he would have liked because ''there were some members of the Security Council for whom it's very difficult somehow to point a finger at rebel groups.'' ''We wish it were stronger but we have to live with what was practically possible,'' Churkin said. Unlike a resolution, all 15 council members must agree to a statement.

Other members of the council said one could not be more definitive about the attackers until the African Union, which has 7,000 troops in Darfur, completed its investigation.

Sudan has blamed the raid on breakaway factions of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement or the Sudan Liberation Army's Unity faction. Leaders from both groups have condemned the attack at the Haskanita base in South Darfur on Saturday and denied responsibility.

The Security Council deplored the fact that the attack took place only weeks before a new round of Darfur peace talks scheduled for October 27 in Tripoli, Libya. It said that ''any attempt to undermine the peace process is unacceptable.'' Sudan's UN ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad told reporters sanctions would have to be lodged against the rebels, which U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has also suggested.

Mohamad said the rebels had to be taught a lesson as one of their objectives was ''to reserve a seat on the train of peace'' in the Tripoli talks. But ''they are just criminals.'' In Khartoum, Sudanese Justice Minister Ali al-Mardi told Reuters the United States and the European Union should have punished the rebel groups that have refused to sign peace deals with the government to end the four-year conflict.

''What happened in Haskanita is a direct result of what the international community has failed to do,'' he said. ''If they had exerted pressure on them, this attack would not have happened.'' The under-financed and ill-equipped African Union troops are to be absorbed and augmented by a joint AU-United Nations force of up to 26,000 soldiers and police.

But the United Nations and the AU have been in dispute over the composition of the force, with the AU backing Sudan in wanting all African troops. At the same time Western countries have not offered enough specialists, concerned in part over the muddy command structure.

Sudan's Mohamad said such criticism was aimed at discrediting ''African participation in the force as well as to send a message that Africans are not capable of doing that.'' He said African countries also had specialized units and pointed to an offer from Egypt of 3,000 troops, adding that ''nobody can dispute the competence of its soldiers.'' Reuters SBA VP0236

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