Darfur town where troops killed "burned down" - UN

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KHARTOUM, Oct 7 (Reuters) A Darfur town has been burned to the ground, days after 10 African Union troops were killed there in an armed attack, a joint United Nations/African Union mission said today.

The report confirmed rebel statements to Reuters on Friday that the remote southeastern settlement of Haskanita had been all but destroyed. But it did not repeat accusations from insurgents that the Sudanese army was behind the destruction.

Residents of Haskanita and surrounding villages fled into the bush or to other towns after it was torched, a prominent rebel said.

No one was immediately available for comment from the Sudanese armed forces, although state media confirmed government forces had moved into the town soon after the attack on the African Union troops.

A large group of armed men attacked a small African Union base in Haskanita on Sept. 29, leaving seven Nigerian peacekeepers dead, alongside three other African soldiers, from Mali, Senegal and Botswana.

The raiders destroyed buildings, vandalised AU armoured personnel carriers and stole arms.

A joint UN/AU inspection team, which visited Haskanita yesterday, said: ''The town, which is under the control of the government, was completely burned down, except for a few buildings.'' It added Haskanita's market had been looted and most of the town's civilian population had fled. Just a handful of townspeople had returned to scavenge for food and water. The UN report on the mission did not blame any party for the destruction of the town.

Suleiman Jamous of the Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) Unity faction, told Reuters a large number of people had been killed in the town. Rebels leaders said on Friday at least 100 people had been killed.

Jamous, who blamed the government for the destruction of the settlement, added: ''All the villages near Haskanita have evacuated either to the bush or nearby towns. They evacuated their villages after they heard what happened to Haskanita.'' News of the destruction came as the African Union said they were planning to rebuild their base near the town, and defend the new outpost it with predominantly Nigerian soldiers.

African Union force commander Martin Luther Agwai said the quick reconstruction would revitalise his men and send out a clear message to forces behind the armed attack that the African Union forces across the war-torn region had not been defeated.

The African Union is investigating who was behind the Sept.

29 attack. Rebel splinter groups have been blamed although key insurgent commanders have denied ordering an attack.

Experts estimate 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million driven from their homes as mostly non-Arab rebels in Darfur took up arms in early 2003 accusing the government of neglect.

Khartoum mobilised mainly Arab militias to quell the revolt.

The AU mediated a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels in May 2006 but only one of three rebel negotiating factions signed the deal. Since then, rebels have split into a dozen factions.


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