Three peacekeepers killed by gunmen in Darfur

CAIRO, Egypt

The peacekeepers were providing security as the joint United Nations-African Union mission built a new base in West Darfur's Jebel Marra region, a major rebel stronghold where the government has made inroads recently.

The estimated 25 assailants drove up piled into a four wheel drive vehicle and attacked the peacekeepers, killing three and losing three of their own number.

"There was a firefight that went on for an hour," said UNAMID spokesman Chris Cycmanick by telephone. "When they fled, they stole one of our four wheel drive vehicles."

He could not confirm the nationalities of the dead peacekeepers, but a Rwanda military unit is responsible for that area.

The attack brings to 27 the number of peacekeepers killed since the U.N.-AU force deployed in January 2008 to protect civilians and improve security in Darfur. In May, two Egyptian peacekeepers were killed when their convoy was ambushed in Darfur.

The U.N. estimates that some 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been displaced since ethnic African tribesman in the vast arid western Darfur region took up arms against the Arab-dominated central government complaining of discrimination, lack of political representation and neglect.

The government says those figures are exaggerated.

While the number of people dying because of the Darfur conflict has diminished, crime has not. Aid workers and staffers from UNAMID have been kidnapped.

There has also been a rise in battles between rival tribes and the splintering rebel movement.

On Sunday, UNAMID patrols reported 40 people died in clashes between the Aballa and Baggara tribes in West Darfur, approximately 60 miles (100 kilometers) away from where the attack on the peacekeepers occurred.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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