13 December 2009Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced deep gratitude today on hearing of the release of two civilian staff members of the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) after more than 100 days in captivity in the war-torn western flank of Sudan. The two staffers – one man and one woman – who were abducted at gunpoint from their residence in West Darfur state on 29 August are now free and in the care of UNAMID. “The Secretary-General commends the efforts of UNAMID and the Government of Sudan in securing the freedom of the abductees,” according to a statement attributable to his spokesperson.His statement underscored the importance of the peacekeeping and humanitarian work undertaken by UNAMID and reiterated that primary responsibility for the safety and security of all humanitarian and peacekeeping personnel lies with the host Government.Last weekend five blue helmets from Rwanda were killed in two separate incidents on Friday and Saturday, bringing the total number of peacekeepers who have lost their lives in Darfur since UNAMID deployed at the start of 2008 to 22.The recent attacks follow the shooting and wounding of three other peacekeepers, also by unidentified gunmen, in West Darfur in October, and the killing of another in South Darfur in May.UNAMID was established in 2007 to try to quell the violence in Darfur, where an estimated 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million others displaced as a result of a conflict pitting rebels against Government forces and allied Janjaweed militiamen since 2003.Almost two years after being set up, UNAMID has still only reached 69 per cent of its authorized troop strength of 19,555, and 4,449 police. The operation also lacks key military elements, including two medium transport units, a level II hospital, an aerial reconnaissance unit, and 18 medium utility helicopters.Meanwhile, senior UNAMID officials attended a ceremony on Sunday to lay the foundation stone for a new ward to house female prisoners in Shallah Federal Prison in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state. The accommodation ward was funded by a UNAMID Quick Impact Project (QIP) and is the first step in a five-part venture to help relocate female prisoners from nearby Kheir Khanaga Prison, which is in a state of disrepair.