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By Andrew Heavens
KHARTOUM, Jan 10 Sudan admitted on Thursday that its troops had opened fire on a joint U.N./African Union peacekeeping convoy in Darfur, contradicting an earlier denial by its ambassador to the United Nations.
The attack underlines the dangerous task facing the joint peacekeeping force, which took over from a beleaguered African Union contingent this month. United Nations officials have repeatedly accused Khartoum of obstructing the roll-out of the force.
A spokesman for the Sudanese armed forces said the attack was the result of a "shared mistake".
He said the U.N./AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) had failed to ask for permission to pass through the area, Sudan's state news agency SUNA reported. The U.N. has insisted it did tell the Sudanese army about the convoy's route in advance.
The Sudanese armed forces spokesman said the UNAMID convoy should also not have been travelling at night.
"The Western Sudan Military Command has provided an apology to the representative of UNAMID in the region and the apology was accepted, in recognition of the dual mistake committed," SUNA said.
Sudanese soldiers fired light weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at the UNAMID supply convoy for up to 12 minutes as it headed for the west Darfur town of Tine late on Monday, the United Nations said.
U.N. officers on the ground told Reuters soon after the attack that they assumed the Sudanese soldiers had mistaken the peacekeepers for rebels, who have been increasingly active in the region in recent weeks.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno told the Security Council on Wednesday that the convoy of more than 20 "clearly marked white vehicles" had been travelling at slow speed when it was hit.
A Sudanese driver was in a critical condition after being shot seven times.
Guehenno reported that the movements of the convoy had been reported to Sudanese armed forces and rebels in advance, according to a report of his briefing issued by the U.N. Security Council.
On Wednesday, Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, insisted to journalists that Darfur rebels the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), not government forces, were behind the attack.
Guehenno on Wednesday told the Security Council UNAMID was still seriously undermanned, with only 9,000 uniformed personnel on the ground - far short of the 26,000 the U.N. had authorised.
In West Darfur state alone, they have already had to deal with a surge of clashes between JEM and government forces and reported air strikes by Chadian air force planes on Chadian rebel positions close to West Darfur's capital el Geneina.
Norway and Sweden on Wednesday said they had been forced to cancel plans to send 400 troops to Darfur following opposition from the Sudanese government.
The Darfur conflict has taken some 200,000 lives and driven more than 2 million from their homes since rebels took up arms against the government in 2003.
(Editing by Giles Elgood)