Khor Abeche — The UN says the identity of the armed group that ambushed a Unamid patrol in South Darfur on Saturday morning "has not yet been established," however witnesses have told Radio Dabanga that "UN vehicles" were spotted in the area being driven by members of a government militia.
During his daily press briefing in New York on Monday, spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Martin Nesirky, released further details of the ambush that left seven Tanzanian peacekeepers dead and 17 more Unamid personnel injured.
He said that "the peacekeepers were attacked when they were undertaking a routine confidence-building patrol. The peacekeepers were outnumbered four to one by their attackers who numbered between 100 and 150. They had trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns. One truck was stolen during the attack and the mission later recovered three damaged vehicles," he confirmed.
With regard to establishing the identity of the attackers, Nesirky said the "the UN is conducting its own investigations and calls on the Government of Sudan to identify and bring to account those responsible".
Various witnesses from South Darfur have reported to Radio Dabanga that "two UN cars were spotted on Saturday being driven by members of the government Central Police Reserve nicknamed Abu Tira" (see background below).
"The soldiers driving the cars were dressed in uniforms with the distinctive 'eagle insignia' on their shoulder," they said.
Apparently, the vehicles had "at least five uniformed members of the Central Police Forces of Sudan on each side of the back".
Observers say that the vehicles were driven from Hamada Forest (Khaba Hamada), through the area of Manawashi, across the bridge of Musko (Wadi Abu Hamra) in the direction of Shengil Tobaya. "When they reached Shengil Tobaya, they turned west towards one of militia's bases in Jebel Afara just cross the border in North Darfur." The UN vehicles are now reportedly parked in the fenced base in Jebel Afara.
The witnesses also confirmed that "nine Abu Tira vehicles" were at the market of Manawashi early on Saturday early morning to buy food.
"They bought meat before driving off in the direction of the Hamada Forest, a bush area that lies a few kilometres off the main road connection between El Fasher and Nyala."
Over the past few days, several people have reported in detail to Radio Dabanga that the local Abu Tira commander, Hamouda Bashir was recognised.
Bashir is the right-hand man of Ali Kushayb, one of the main commanders of the Abu Tira, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes. Kushayb sustained serious injuries in clashes between his formation and contingents of the Sudan Armed Forces in Nyala last week.
The government of Sudan has accused the rebel Sudan Liberation Army - Minni Minawi (SLA-MM) for the attack on the Unamid patrol, however the local population of the villages who testify to the presence of Abu Tira on Saturday morning, mainly consist of Arab tribes and people from the Birgid, Barno and Tama tribes. They confirmed to Radio Dabanga that no SLA-MM troops were present.
Only several furgan (tent encampments) of traditional nomad camel caravans of the three main Arab tribes of Irigat, Awlad Beni Mansour and Itifad roam this area.
Unamid has confirmed that the ambush occurred about 25 kilometres north-northwest of the Mission's Khor Abeche base. "The Unamid patrol was a relatively small one. It was ambushed by a large group, so we were completely outnumbered. We came under heavy fire from machine guns and possibly from rocket-propelled grenades," a spokesman told Radio Dabanga. Several Unamid vehicles, including armoured patrol vehicles and Land Cruisers had to be towed from the scene. The wheels of the patrol vehicles were all blown.
Abu Tira background:
The troops allegedly involved in the deadly ambush of the Unamid patrol are part of the Central Police Reserve (al Ittihad al Merkazi) also known as Central Reserve Forces, which has the nickname Abu Tira. The name is related to a bird (Tira) that is also a distinctive insignia on their uniforms.
The Central Police Reserve (CRP) are combat-trained forces, using light and heavy machine guns, RPGs, 82mm mortars and, when they participate in joint combat operations under the tactical control of the Sudanese Army, reportedly also 105mm and 130mm artillery. They drive Land Cruisers mounted with 12.7mm machine guns.
Victims call them often 'Janjaweed'. During the attacks in Nyala, July 2013, they joined a fight with the Border Guards targeting national security forces, NGOs, police forces and the Sudan Armed Forces. Formally the infamous Janjaweed were integrated in the border guards. A Central Reserve Police commander Ali Kushayb was seriously wounded last week, most probably by bullets from the Security Forces of the Sudan Army.
During the same violence, a Sudanese Army Major was killed, as were two staff members of NGO World Vision International. The Abu Tira collaborated with the border guards in recapturing the Labado and Muhajeriya that had been occupied in April 2013 by the rebel SLA-MM.
The government mainly used local Arab militias affiliated to the Border Guards and the Central Police Reserve to retake the towns, after which several tens thousands of people fled the cities.
Radio Dabanga recived multiple reports of mass looting, rapes and killings.
Labado, Hamada Forest and the team site of Unamid in Khor Abeche are all in the same area North and East of Nyala, the South Darfur capital.