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30 Apr 2007 07:04
Sudanese government aircraft on Sunday attacked the site where rebel leaders in the Darfur region were planning to hold unity talks, wounding several people, one of the faction leaders said.
Ahmed Abdel Shafi, head of one of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) factions which did not make peace with the government last year, told Reuters the rebels had brought down one of two helicopter gunships that took part in the attack.
A Sudanese armed forces spokesperson said he was not aware of any attacks but a helicopter had gone missing on a reconnaissance mission after reporting a technical problem.
Abdel Shafi said: “We brought one gunship down. We have several wounded but the situation is under control now.
“We were preparing to a hold a conference involving other factions of the SLM to try and unite under one leadership to negotiate with the government.”
Only one faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement, led by Minni Arcua Minnawi, signed a peace deal with the government in May 2006 in Nigeria.
The agreement has failed to end the violence in the region where the United Nations says about 200 000 people have died and more than two million have been displaced since the conflict flared in 2003.
Nouri Abdalla, an aide to Abdel Shafi, said rebels had captured the pilot of the helicopter, while the bodies of two soldiers and an officer were found burned.
Abdalla identified the pilot as Lieutenant Mouaweya Hussein Mohamed.
The helicopters, together with an Antonov plane, attacked at 9.30am local time at a site in North Darfur state.
The armed forces spokesperson said the air force had lost contact with one helicopter on a reconnaissance mission 60km north-east of the town of Kutum in north Darfur on Sunday morning.
“The pilot reported a technical failure, then we lost contact with him,” he told Reuters. “The armed forces are now conducting a search-and-rescue mission.”
Jar el-Nabi Abdel Karim, another rebel commander, told Reuters that government planes and helicopters had attacked a separate target near Hashaba in North Darfur but without inflicting any casualties.
Later on Sunday presidential adviser Majzoub al-Khalifa reiterated that the majority of Darfur was stable, except for rebel territories in Amaray in the north.
Government aircraft bombed Amaray on April 21, two days after hitting another rebel site in north Darfur in an “unprovoked attack”, the African Union said last week.
Asked about those raids, Khalifa told reporters: “Sudan only deals with forces, and Sudan agrees that no villages or civilians should be bombed.”
But he added that the armed forces had decided “about 10 days ago” to halt all operations in Darfur to allow rebel groups to join the peace process.
The rebels say they are fighting the government because it has neglected the region for decades. Khartoum, which says that 9 000 people have lost their lives in Darfur, blames the rebels for prolonging the conflict.
The United States and Britain want Sudan to accept a combined AU and UN force of more than 20 000 troops and police in Darfur or face sanctions.
So far Khartoum has agreed to accept just 3 500 UN military and police personnel on top of the existing underfunded AU force of about 5 000.—Reuters
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