SUDAN: Darfur rebels accuse government of bombing their positions

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Darfur rebels have accused Sudanese government forces of bombing Haskanita, a rebel-held town in North Darfur, just days after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Khartoum had agreed to end attacks in the region.

Abu Bakr Kado, a commander with a faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM–Unity), said government forces launched an air and ground assault on the town on 10 September, without giving details of casualties.

"The bombing was intense," said Kado, adding that government forces used high-altitude Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships. He said the bombing coincided with a ground assault by hundreds of soldiers.

Forces from his faction and another rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), repulsed the attack, according to Kado.

"Some government soldiers fled to the African Union (AU) base in Haskanita, but we captured 10, including a brigadier," he said.

The army was not immediately available for comment. Kado said his group was prepared to release the captured soldiers as a goodwill gesture. "We want to hand them over to the International Committee of the Red Cross," he said.

Haskanita is near the central Sudanese region of Kordofan.

Last month, the Sudanese government accused rebels from the SLM–Unity and JEM of killing 41 people in an attack on a base of Central Reserve Forces – a branch of the police – in Wad Banda in North Kordofan.

It was not immediately clear if the attack on Haskanita was retaliatory.

A Sudanese presidential adviser, Ghazi Salah Eddin, told reporters on 10 September that the "army will not stand idle" in the face of attacks by rebels opposed to peace.

Peace talks

The renewed violence in Darfur came just days after the Sudanese government agreed to fulfil "its commitment to a full cessation of hostilities in Darfur, and agreed-upon ceasefire".

Sudan made the pledge in a joint communiqué with the UN at the end of Ban’s visit.

Before leaving Khartoum, Ban announced that peace talks between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebel groups would open on 27 October in Libya under the auspices of the UN and AU.

He further urged all the parties to refrain from any action that could torpedo efforts to end more than four-and-a-half years of conflict in Darfur, which has claimed 200,000 lives and forced more than two million to flee their homes.

The Sudanese government promised to "contribute positively to a secure environment for the negotiations".

The rebels said they were equally committed, but warned that attacks by government forces on their position raised questions about Khartoum’s commitment to peace.

"We are committed to the ceasefire agreement signed in N’djamena, Chad, in 2004," said Kado. He, however, added that the Haskanita attack could have a "negative impact" on the peace process.

Most rebel groups have agreed to participate in peace talks with the government, but one key rebel leader, Abdul Wahid Mohammed Nur, founder of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), has set conditions before taking part.

A high-level delegation from the former southern rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), arrived in Paris, where Nur lives, on 10 September to persuade him to join the talks.

The SPLM, which administers Southern Sudan, formed a government of national unity with Khartoum in 2005 after both parties signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended more than two decades of a north-south conflict.

Source: IRIN
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