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Rebels Kill African Union Peacekeepers in Darfur

Hear NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Here's the latest news confronting those trying to end the killing in Darfur. Heavily armed rebels have attacked African peacekeepers. Ten African Union troops were killed and dozens are missing. It happened over the weekend in a region of Sudan were the U.S. has said genocide is under way. The attack took place during the same weekend that Sudan allowed in a group of international elders. Think of them like tribal elders but on a grand scale. They include South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter.

NPR Charlayne Hunter-Gault is traveling with the group and joins us now. Charlayne, what can they do?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Steve, they're bringing to bear their own years of experience and moral authority. You know, both Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu are Nobel Prize winners. They bring a lot of heavy-duty background and influence to bear.

INSKEEP: Is that why they think they can make progress?

HUNTER-GAULT: Yes. That's exactly the reason. They can speak truth to power without fear of consequences. In fact, listen to what Archbishop Desmond Tutu told me last night.

Archbishop DESMOND TUTU: President Carter has a very long relationship with President al-Bashir. And sometimes it takes just a word to the wise, where you don't need to publicize anything. And it just might be the thing that turns the trick.

INSKEEP: So we're told there that President Carter has a long relationship with Sudan's president. Is he among those that the elders, as we're calling them, will be seeing?

HUNTER-GAULT: Yes. there are 13 elders in all, and among them is one of the main founders of the group - Gracha Machel, wife of President Mandela; Desmond Tutu; President Carter; and Lakhdar Brahimi, who is a U.N. special representative. They are constituting this group, and they will be traveling both to the south to meet with the president of the south, Salva Kiir, who is also vice president in the national unity government. And they will also be traveling to Darfur.

They're engaged in discussions with a wide range of role players and stakeholders from the opposition, from the warring factions, and even President al-Bashir himself. And before - they're going to meet with al-Bashir twice. And before they meet with him the first time, they're asking these NGOs and humanitarian workers and the others I have mentioned what is it that we can do to help. Once they gather all that information, they're going to go back to President al-Bashir and say this is what we've heard and make some recommendations.

INSKEEP: Well, I want to ask about this bit of news that we mentioned at the top, and it's a rather a large bit of news. The African Union is saying its troops were attacked in Darfur by Sudanese rebels. And this is described as one of the most sustained attacks - maybe the most sustained attacks in some time.

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, it's the most sustained, largest attack on the African Union forces in the history of this conflict. And there are all kinds of reports about who is involved. I mean, rebel groups have splintered, you know. It used to be two main ones. Now there are, God knows, 14 or 15. They're all jockeying for power. There's going to be a peace conference in Tripoli, Libya at the end of this month to try and bring all the warring parties and opposition forces together.

And many of the humanitarian workers I spoke with seemed to think that this might be the reason for this attack, that they're trying to gain some primacy, but exactly who these people are, nobody knows. Some of the humanitarian workers seemed to think that this is a response to continuous government bombardment of that region in Darfur, which is very remote. I mean, no aid workers have been able to get there within the last two months and there's some 17,000 people caught in the middle of this conflict. And aid workers say that there's some suspicion on the part of the rebels that these A.U. forces are giving the government information. Now, that's merely a charge, nothing substantiated. So why they attacked - who knows? It's a very difficult, fragile, volatile situation.

INSKEEP: NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault is in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, covering a conflict where it's hard even to know who the enemy is. Charlayne, thanks very much.

HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you, Steve.

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