AU confirms Darfur air raids

Sudan’s air force bombed Darfur villages in violation of a recent ceasefire, hindering African and American attempts to unite rebel groups under a common leadership that can commit to peace, the African Union said on Monday.

The AU comments were the first independent confirmation of reports from rebel leaders about the air raids in northern Darfur last week. The Sudanese military on Sunday denied the bombing raids.

“Preliminary investigations by [the African Union] have confirmed that the aerial bombings indeed took place” against the village of Anka and in the region of Wadi Korma last week, the AU said in a statement.

The AU did not mention any casualties. But the United Nations mission to Sudan said it received reports that two people were killed in other bombings in Ein Sirro, also in North Darfur province.
Rebel leaders said the air raids also killed a large number of cattle and destroyed stocks of crop.

The bombings, which breach United Nations Security Council resolutions and a peace agreement, came after the Sudanese government vowed to adhere to a new truce brokered by visiting US governor Bill Richardson and others earlier this month.

The AU deplored that the government bombed North Darfur “when efforts are being made to reenergise the peace process” by broadening support among rebels for the Darfur peace accord signed last May.

The United States and African Union are trying to get Darfur’s fractious rebel groups to unite and enter peace talks in a bid to end the continuous violence in the war-torn region of western Sudan.

The government signed the peace deal with one insurgent leader, but other rebels refused and the AU says there are now at least a dozen rebel factions in Darfur.

Several rebel leaders said last week’s bombings caught them as they were returning to their North Darfur bases from a meeting in neighbouring Chad with Andrew Natsios, the US special envoy for Sudan, who urged them to agree on negotiations with the government.

A previous gathering of rebel chiefs was bombed late in December, and the US embassy in Khartoum, along with the AU, are urging Sudanese authorities not to further prevent a meeting of Darfur’s many splintered rebel groups to prepare for new peace talks.

The National Redemption Front, Darfur’s main rebel coalition, said in a statement on Monday that its leaders and Natsios “were in accord” on most issues discussed in their talks.

“The NRF reaffirmed its absolute readiness to embark on peace talks at the earliest opportunity and whenever the [Sudanese government] decides to make [a] negotiated peaceful settlement,” the rebel statement said.

More than 200 000 people have died and 2,5-million fled their homes in Darfur since 2003, when rebels took arms against the central government, accusing it of neglect.

Khartoum is accused of having responded with indiscriminate air raids against civilian villages, and by unleashing the Janjaweed paramilitary groups blamed for the bulk of the conflict’s atrocities.

The UN said that two people working for the World Food Programme and an international aid group were held hostage for a day by Janjaweed in North Darfur before being released on Monday.

Humanitarian workers are increasingly threatened and harassed in Darfur, and 12 were killed over the past six months while 400 had to be pulled out for security reasons.

Sudanese police and security officials raided the compound of an aid group on Friday in the South Darfur capital of Nyala, the UN said in a statement on Monday. About 20 people working for the UN, the AU and aid groups were arrested, some subjected to physical assault and verbal abuse, the UN said. “Several of the detained staff sustained serious injuries, some of which required treatment” at a UN clinic, the statement said.

Sudanese media said the humanitarian workers and the peacekeepers were arrested for drinking alcohol, which is prohibited under the strict Muslim law enforced by the regime.

The UN said it would “officially protest to the government of Sudan the assault of the staff by local police, in violation of basic principles of rule of law and due process”. - Sapa-AP

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