Dar es Salaam. President Jakaya Kikwete yesterday led thousands of mourners in paying their last respects to the seven Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) soldiers who were killed while on a peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan.
There were sorrowful scenes at TPDF headquarters in Upanga, Dar es Salaam, when the coffins bearing the soldiers’ bodies arrived for the solemn ceremony. Some relatives were inconsolable upon seeing the caskets for the first time. Tears flowed freely among the fallen soldiers’ relatives and colleagues as the coffins draped in the national flag were carried out of military vehicles.
President Kikwete, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, led senior government officials and top army officers in bidding farewell to Sergeant Shaibu Othman, Corporal Oswald Chaula, Corporal Mohammed Juma Ali, Corporal Mohammed Chokizo, Private Rodney Ndunguru, Private Fortunatus Msofe and Private Peter Muhiri Werema.
The soldiers were killed when gunmen ambushed a convoy of African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (Unamid) peacekeepers in southern Darfur on July 13. Seventeen others were wounded in the worst attack in Unamid’s five-year history.
President Kikwete described the soldiers as true patriots who died while serving their country diligently and selflessly.
He said it was time peacekeeping rules were reviewed to allow peacekeepers to use heavy weapons to defend themselves when under attack, adding that Tanzania would take up the issue with the United Nations and the African Union.
President Kikwete said he had asked his Sudanese counterpart, Mr Omar al-Bashir, to launch thorough investigations into the incident and bring those responsible to justice.
Dressed in a dark suit, President Kikwete, accompanied by his wife Salma, was the first to bid farewell to the fallen heroes. He was followed by Vice President Mohamed Gharib Bilal and other top government officials.
Other speakers at the ceremony included Defence and National Service minister Shamsi Vuai Nahodha and the Chief of Defence Forces, General Davis Mwamunyange.
Mr Nahodha said the attack was part of a wider plot by criminal gangs to undermine peacekeeping efforts by the UN and AU.
He said the government would meet the cost of burying the soldiers and taking care of their families, adding that the government was also closely monitoring the Tanzanian soldiers who were wounded in the attack and who were still in Sudan receiving treatment.
Narrating the incident, Gen Mwamunyange said Tanzanian soldiers were escorting military observers and police advisers at around 9am on July 13 when they were ambushed by heavily armed assailants after slowing down in an area that had been made slippery by heavy rain. Seven soldiers died instantly.
Tanzanian soldiers returned fire, but were outgunned by the attackers in a two-hour shootout. The gunmen fled when Unamid reinforcements arrived at the scene.
Other high-profile figures who attended yesterday’s ceremony included Zanzibar Second Vice President Seif Ali Idd, Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation minister Bernard Membe, Home Affairs minister Emmanuel Nchimbi and CCM Secretary-General Abdulrahman Kinana.