updated 5/8/2009 11:32:05 AM ET 2009-05-08T15:32:05

Gunmen shot and killed an unarmed peacekeeper outside his home in Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region, the spokesman for the joint U.N.-African Union mission said Friday.

The military observer, whose nationality and name were not released, was the 15th peacekeeper killed in Darfur since the mission began in January 2008 and the second since an international court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's president for alleged war crimes in the remote western region.

Mission spokesman Noureddine Mezni said the peacekeeper was attacked late Thursday outside his home in South Darfur's capital, Nyala. The gunmen fled the scene in the peacekeeper's SUV, he said.

The U.N.-AU mission, which has about 15,000 mostly African peacekeepers on the ground in Darfur, remains ill-equipped. Mission officials complain that staff is vulnerable to banditry and attacks by warring factions because a peace deal has not been reached in Darfur.

There were fears that the mission would become the target of revenge attacks after the International Criminal Court issued the warrant in early March against President Omar al-Bashir. One peacekeeper was killed and four others injured in two separate attacks later that month.

Aid workers expelled
The Hague-based tribunal accuses al-Bashir of orchestrating war crimes in Darfur, where U.N. officials estimate up to 300,000 people have died and about 2.7 million have been displaced since 2003. In response, Sudan expelled more than a dozen aid agencies that mostly worked in Darfur.

Al-Bashir denies the accusations, and Sudan has refused to cooperate with the court. The country ignored two previous arrest warrants for alleged war crimes in Darfur issued in 2007 against Cabinet minister Ahmed Haroun and an alleged militia leader.

In an apparent nod to international pressure, the state-run news agency on Thursday said al-Bashir ordered Haroun be removed from his post as a state minister for humanitarian affairs, which oversees aid relief in Darfur.

Conflict devastates country
A Sudanese government official said Haroun's removal would keep politics away from humanitarian relief in Darfur and allow Sudan to continue receiving international funding. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Haroun was appointed as governor of an oil-rich state next to Darfur where former rivals from a separate Sudan conflict remain at odds over oil resources and land rights.

The Darfur conflict started in 2003 when mostly ethnic African rebels took up arms against the government, complaining of neglect and discrimination.

More on Darfur | Omar al-Bashir

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