In separate incidents over the weekend, suspected Sudanese rebels killed five African Union troops near the Sudan-Chad border, and suspected Sudanese janjaweed militiamen killed villagers in neighboring Chad. The violence has ratcheted up calls for a UN peacekeeper presence in the region.
Reuters reports that authorities in Chad blame the janjaweed for cross-border raids on Saturday that left up to 8,000 people homeless and at least 65 villagers dead after two villages were allegedly burned down by the militia, which is supported by the Sudanese government. Sudan, however, denied any role in the attacks.
Chad President Idriss Deby, who also faces an insurgency in the east, frequently accuses Sudan of sending the Janjaweed – feared mounted raiders whose name in Arabic means "devils on horseback" – across the border to kill and plunder.
But Khartoum denied any responsibility for the latest raid.
"I have not heard anything about this incident. The Sudanese government played no role in this whatsoever," Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig told Reuters in Khartoum.
The United Nations Refugee Agengy (UNHCR) reports that accounts gathered from survivors of the attacks indicate that the janjaweed were responsible for the carnage before being "repelled by local self-defence militias and national army soldiers following several hours of combat" and fleeing back in the direction of the Sudanese border.
According to testimony of survivors interviewed by UNHCR and partner agencies, their villages were surrounded by men on horseback and camelback, as well as many motor vehicles, some of which were equipped with heavy weaponry. The assailants began to fire at random into the villages, and then began pursuing the fleeing population, robbing women of their possessions and shooting the men, many of whom are feared dead.
Meanwhile, five African Union soldiers were killed in weekend violence near the Sudan-Chad border over the weekend, the most casualties the peacekeeping force has sustained in an attack since being deployed in 2004, The New York Times reports. AU officials said that the soldiers were killed when a peacekeeper convoy was ambushed by whom they believe were five members of the rebel Sudanese Liberation Army on Sunday. Despite outnumbering the rebels, the AU troops sustained many casualties and had a truck stolen in the process. The attack underscored the ineffectiveness of the AU troops' ability to curb violence in Darfur, the Times reports.
With just 7,000 troops to cover an area the size of France, little equipment and a very limited mandate, the African Union force has been derided as ineffective at protecting civilians.
The attack on Sunday demonstrated that the force also has trouble protecting itself, much less the more than two million displaced people living in camps and hiding in the bush in Darfur.
A spokesman for the AU force, Noureddine Mezni, told the Times that the attack by the rebels was "unprovoked aggression" and that the peacekeepers are "deeply concerned about that increasing state of attack against" the African Union.
The BBC reports that following the recent attacks on the AU troops, AU commission head Alpha Oumar Konare has called on Sudan to "speedily implement" plans for a joint AU/UN peace force in Sudan. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has continually resisted plans to add UN troops to the peacekeeping effort in Darfur.
The US is considering the "next diplomatic steps" to take if Sudan's government continues to resist the addition of UN peacekeeping forces, the US Department of State website reports.
"We haven't seen any actions by the Sudanese government to indicate that they're going to change their position about letting in all three phases of the AU-U.N. force," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, adding that President Bashir has attempted to add caveats to the plan "that we believe would lessen the effectiveness of that force."
"[Q]uite clearly, to this point the diplomatic pressure that we as well as others have tried to apply hasn't been working," he said, and "as a result, we have to take a look at what else we might do."
The Washington Post reports, however, that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has pushed for the US to delay any sanctions so that he can have more time to convince Khartoum to allow the UN peacekeepers. Mr. Ban said he had reached an agreement with Sudan's president to meet with AU officials next week in Ethiopia over the issue of adding a UN force of 2,250 troops to Darfur. "Before we talk about sanctions, let me have some more political space to deal with this dialogue with them," Ban said.