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Page last updated at 15:35 GMT, Tuesday, 2 October 2007 16:35 UK

'Elders' in landmark Darfur visit

Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Tutu is leading the council of elders' mission

A delegation of influential elder statesmen led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been visiting Darfur to try to find solutions to the conflict.

The "Elders" have been talking to local community leaders and to displaced people living in camps.

The visit comes three days after an attack on the African Union base in southern Darfur left 10 soldiers dead.

The AU says it is furious and will be reviewing the mandate of its force after the unprovoked attack.

At least 200,000 people have died and some 2m forced from their homes during the four year conflict.

The chairman of the AU peace and security council, James Kalilangwe, said a joint inquiry by the AU and the United Nations would look into improving camp defences as well as the force's mandate.

"The force should be there to defend itself and even engage in hot pursuit if necessary," he said.

The AU's Peace and Security Commissioner, Said Djinnit, added that all the troop contributing countries were committed to their mission in Darfur despite the difficulties.

Southern Sudan

From Khartoum, the Elders flew first to Juba in southern Sudan to assess the situation.

They met the Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir, who urged them to use their influence with the government in Khartoum to implement the peace deal, signed in 2005 to end the 20-year civil war between north and south, but not yet put into full effect.

The BBC's Amber Henshaw, who is travelling with the delegation, says the deal has been looking increasingly shaky over recent months.

President Kiir underlined the many challenges ahead, including border demarcation and the redeployment of northern troops, but he also pointed out that any failure of peace in the south would have a devastating effect on Darfur.

Battle for Haskanita

Details of the intensity of Saturday's attack on the AU base at Haskanita have emerged.

AU peacekeeper
AU soldiers tried to fight off the Darfuri rebels but were over-run

AU soldiers told AP news agency that a large force numbering up to 1,000 well-equipped Darfuri rebels attacked the AU outpost at dusk, catching the 157 soldiers and support staff by surprise.

Rockets started falling on the base and an armoured personnel carrier took a direct hit as the beleaguered AU force, mainly composed of Nigerian soldiers, fought off the initial attack.

The rebels then mounted a second attack, using armoured vehicles and firing rocket-propelled grenades. The battle raged until around 0400 local time when the AU forces ran out of ammunition and were overrun.

One of the soldiers told AP: "Once we ran out of ammunition, we all laid down in that ditch."

As morning broke the Sudanese army arrived and the rebels withdrew, leaving behind 10 dead and seven injured.

SLA fighter in Darfur
SLA fighters have broken into numerous splinter factions

First reports said up to 47 AU soldiers were unaccounted for, the figure was later revised down to 23 and by late Monday another 20 had reached another AU base, AP reports.

"(The survivors) are in a state of shock", said AU mission chief Rodolphe Adada.

The new Commander of the future hybrid United Nations-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur, General Martin Agwai, told the BBC from Haskanita on Monday that he was convinced the attackers were a splinter group who had broken away from a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), known as the SLA United.

Sanctions warning

In the aftermath of the attack, the United States has threatened further sanctions against both the Sudanese government and rebel groups if they block the Darfur peace efforts.

Map

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the punitive measures could include travel bans and financial restrictions on individuals.

Human Rights Watch has described the killings as a war crime, and has called for an immediate investigation by the AU and UN.

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