UN: 3 Sudan peacekeepers die during delay

By ANITA SNOW | August 4, 2011 | 2:30 PM EDT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Three Ethiopian peacekeepers mortally wounded this week in a land mine explosion died while Sudan refused requests to let them be flown out of the region for medical care, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said Thursday.

Alain Le Roi, under-secretary-general for peacekeeping, told reporters in New York on Thursday that one peacekeeper died instantly on Tuesday when a convoy of troops deploying to Sudan's Abyei region hit a land mine.

Le Roi said three other peacekeepers wounded in the blast died in the next three hours as the U.N. tried to persuade the Sudanese government to let a helicopter fly them to treatment.

"They prevented us from taking off by threatening to shoot down the helicopter," Le Roi said.

He said "no one can say" if the delay was a factor in the deaths of the three peacekeepers. He added that a board of inquiry is investigating the incident.

Seven other peacekeepers injured in the blast survived.

A call seeking comment from the Sudanese mission to the U.N. wasn't immediately returned.

Le Roi said the U.N. also was investigating which group had placed the mine, noting that because of long-running conflicts in the region it could have been planted on the road months or even years ago.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had met with the permanent representative of the Sudanese mission to the U.N. and other Sudanese officials about the incident. He said he stressed that when it comes to saving lives, "any delay is unacceptable."

A 4,200-strong Ethiopian peacekeeping force recently was approved for a six-month deployment to the contested region of Abyei, which lies between Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan. They began deploying last month.