KHARTOUM, Sudan -- Militiamen on horseback ambushed a refugee convoy in Sudan's western Darfur region, killing about 30 civilians, the United Nations and aid workers said yesterday. African Union peacekeepers who were called to investigate were briefly taken hostage by other refugees.
With violence in the region worsening, aid workers in El Geneina, capital of West Darfur, and the UN said progovernment janjaweed militiamen ambushed a truck Saturday outside Sirba on a road near the border with Chad and executed about 30 civilians.
"Some of the passengers were shot by the attackers and others were burnt to death," a UN statement said.
The governor of West Darfur denied the attack was carried out by janjaweed, blaming antigovernment rebels he said are seeking "to make citizens lose confidence in the African Union."
More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been forced from their homes since ethnic African rebels rose up against Sudan's Arab-dominated government in early 2003.
The regime in Khartoum is accused of responding by unleashing the janjaweed militias of Arab nomads, who have been blamed for most of the atrocities. Sudanese officials deny using the janjaweed and oppose replacing African Union peacekeepers with a joint mission of about 20,000 UN and African soldiers.
Information from Darfur, a vast region nearly the size of Texas, is increasingly hard to come by because the government has prohibited foreign journalists from traveling there and imposed tight restrictions on what aid workers are allowed to say.
The spokesman for the 7,000-strong African Union force in Darfur, Noureddine Mezni, said a helicopter crew and team of AU peacekeepers sent yesterday to investigate the Sirba killings were detained for several hours by an angry mob of civilians before being released.
Several hundred peacekeepers also were reported attacked in their base in El Geneina.
Peacekeepers returned fire when they saw their attackers were armed with rocket-propelled grenades, an African Union soldier said. It was not clear who the assailants were, said the soldier, who insisted on speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
In a sign of the African Union's difficulties in Darfur, Sudanese police were deployed around the camp to protect the peacekeepers. The police presence suggested the attack was by civilians frustrated with the peacekeepers and not the janjaweed, a UN official said.