EL FASHER, Sudan — A UN Security Council team visiting Darfur expressed deep concerns yesterday over the increase in violence in the western Sudanese region, worries that were underscored by the kidnapping the previous day of a peacekeeper serving with the joint UN-African Union mission in the area.
The UN members are on a fact-finding trip that started in southern Sudan earlier in the week, ahead of a January independence referendum that will determine whether the south will split off from the rest of the country. There are fears the vote could lead to a new outbreak of north-south civil war in Sudan, Africa’s largest country.
As the UN delegation arrived in Darfur on Thursday, armed men raided a residence housing three international peacekeepers in downtown El Fasher, the capital of the North Darfur state, according to Chris Cycmanick, a spokesman for the joint mission.
Cycmanick said three gunmen initially grabbed the peacekeepers and made away in a mission car. Two of the abducted managed to escape from the moving vehicle, while the third — a Hungarian civilian — is still missing. It was the first attack on the mission in central El Fasher. Cycmanick said the getaway car was later found abandoned in town.
Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador to the United Nations, said the attack didn’t appear linked to the UN visit but that it was a sign of the recent uptick in violence. The Security Council members said they were particularly alarmed with attacks targeting the international peacekeepers and aid workers operating in Darfur.
“There is a climate of insecurity here in Darfur and the level of violence has gone up this year, compared to previous years,’’ Lyall Grant said. “We are very concerned.’’
“I think it is an indication of the very difficult conditions in which all the UN workers and international workers are operating in here in Darfur,’’ he said.
Another UNAMID spokesman, Kemal Saiki, said the mission hadn’t heard from the attackers so far. “We had incidents of carjacking. We have incidents of armed robberies . . . to my knowledge, as far as I can remember, this is the first time this happened here in El Fasher,’’ he said.