Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sudan News Bulletin: Clashes Erupt in Abyei Region; Peace Talks With Rebels Ruled-out; Thousands Attend Victory Rally

Clashes break out in Sudan's oil-rich Abyei region

ABYEI, Sudan, May 14 (Reuters) - Sudanese former southern rebels fought northern government forces on Wednesday in Sudan's disputed oil-rich Abyei region, killing three and sending hundreds fleeing, south Sudanese and U.N. officials said.

Fighting began near the town of Abyei on Tuesday night, killing two, and resumed on Wednesday, said Moussa Malei, deputy administrator of Abyei.

Witnesses said hundreds of civilians fled as small arms and mortar fire broke out on Wednesday between northern forces and the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, and heavy exchanges of fire could be heard from a U.N. base near town.

"Some of the SPLA soldiers and the Sudanese Armed Forces were fighting in the market," Malei said.

A U.N. official said fighting had worsened on Wednesday after a Sudanese government soldier was killed. "That seemed to cause the escalation," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Analysts predict that Abyei, often called the "Kashmir" of Sudan's north-south conflict and coveted by both sides, could be the flash point to reignite civil war if its status is not resolved amicably and quickly.

Under a 2005 agreement that ended more than 20 years of north-south civil war, Abyei town is to be guarded by special joint units of northern and southern soldiers.

Commanders from both sides were meeting U.N. staff to resolve their issues, Malei said. The United Nations had been preparing to evacuate non-essential staff from the area, U.N. officials said.

Sudan's ruling National Congress Party accused former southern rebels in April of stirring up tensions in Abyei by unilaterally appointing a governor, saying it violated the north-south ceasefire.

South Sudan's government at the time accused the northern army of sending troops into Abyei town, capital of the disputed state.

The deadlock over Abyei shows the difficulties implementing the north-south deal that ended a war which claimed 2 million lives. The peace deal granted semi-autonomous status to south Sudan.

Under the 2005 peace accord residents of Abyei will chose to join the north or south in 2011, when the entire south will vote on secession from the north.

President rules out peace talks with rebel leader behind weekend assault

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has
ruled out the possibility of holding peace talks with the head of the Darfur rebel group that staged a daring assault close to the capital that killed more than 200 people last weekend.

The U.N. and African Union have tried for months to open new
peace talks between Sudan and Darfur rebel groups after a previous peace agreement failed to stem the violence. But most rebel chiefs, including Justice and Equality Movement leader Khalil Ibrahim, have boycotted the initiative and security has further deteriorated.

At a rally orchestrated by the government Wednesday in Khartoum, al-Bashir called Ibrahim "an agent...who sold himself to the devil and to Zionism."

"We are for peace and a peaceful solution, but there is no room for Khalil," al-Bashir told supporters.

Sudan: 200 died in Darfur rebel raid near Khartoum

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- More that 200 people were killed in
fighting around Sudan's capital over the weekend, the defense
minister announced Tuesday in the first official comment on
casualties during the assault by Darfur rebels.

Gen. Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein told parliament that the
attackers sent by the rebel Justice and Equality Movement suffered a crushing defeat, with at least two-thirds of the their 180 vehicles destroyed, according to the official SUNA news agency.

Sudanese were shocked by the rebel assault on the outskirts of Khartoum, hundreds of miles from their bases in the west. The raid was the closest that Darfur's rebels have gotten to the seat of the government.

The defense minister said 93 soldiers and 13 policemen died in the weekend fighting in Khartoum's twin city, Omdurman, along with 30 civilians. He said 90 rebel bodies had been found so far, but more were scattered outside the city.

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday strongly condemned the
rebel attack. In a statement, the council urged "restraint by all parties, and in particular warns that no retaliatory action should be taken against civilian populations."

The general said his troops had been prepared to fight the
rebels far from the city, but he charged that the army's location was revealed by "huge numbers of fifth columnists" from factions trying to undermine the government.

The rebels admitted they had been defeated but promised further attacks on the capital unless the government deals with the festering situation in Darfur, where 200,000 people have died in a conflict that began five years ago.

"JEM might have lost the Khartoum battle and pulled out in
dignity ... but it has not lost the war," the group's deputy
chairman, Mahmoud Suleiman, said in a statement given to The
Associated Press on Tuesday.

Life was gradually returning to normal Tuesday, with banks,
shops and markets open for business for the first time since the attack. Checkpoints remained in place, however, as troops searched for any rebels remaining in the city, including their leader, Khalil Ibrahim.

The government doubled its bounty for Ibrahim on Tuesday to
nearly $250,000 for anyone contributing to the rebel leader's

State media reported the reward was 500 million new Sudanese
pounds, which is the equivalent of $246 million, but Bakri Mullah, secretary-general of the External Information Office, explained to the AP that the reward was actually in old Sudanese pounds, or about $246,000.

Sudan re-valued its currency more than a year ago and the new
pound is worth 1,000 times the old one.

According to witnesses cited by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, at least 100 people had been arrested at checkpoints and in house-to-house searches since the attack, as security forces look for suspected rebels.

"Given Khartoum's record of abuse, there is grave cause for
concern about the fate of those detained," Georgette Gagnon, the group's Africa director, said in a statement late Monday.

In a telephone interview with the AP on Monday, Ibrahim vowed to keep up his offensive, saying he can exhaust the army by fighting it across Africa's largest nation. He said he was in Omdurman with his troops.

Ibrahim's movement has emerged as the most effective rebel group in Darfur, where ethnic Africans took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in 2003 to fight discrimination. The conflict has displaced more than 2.5 million people.

UN Security Council condemns rebel attack in Sudan

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council strongly
condemned last weekend's rebel attack near the Sudanese capital but warned against any government retaliation.

A statement approved by the 15 council members and read at a
formal meeting Tuesday stressed "the urgent need for all parties to engage fully and constructively in the political process."

Most Sudanese were shocked by the assault near Khartoum by
rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement, which is based in conflict-wracked Darfur, hundreds of miles to the west.

Sudan's Defense Minister Gen. Abdul-Rahim Mohammed Hussein told parliament on Tuesday that more than 200 people were killed in the fighting in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman, according to the official SUNA news agency.

The rebels admitted defeat but promised further attacks on the capital unless the festering situation in Darfur is resolved. The JEM movement has emerged as the most effective rebel group in Darfur, where ethnic Africans took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in 2003 to fight discrimination.

The U.N. says 2.5 million people have been forced from their
homes during the five-year conflict and the death toll could be as high as 300,000.

In its statement, the Security Council urged "restraint by all parties, and in particular warns that no retaliatory action should be taken against civilian populations."

Council members also called on Sudan and Chad to implement a
peace deal signed in March by Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and Chad's President Idriss Deby.

The agreement calls for both countries to rein in armed groups operating along their shared border, where both governments have claimed rebels are backed by the other. It commits the two nations to implement past accords that have so far failed to help end violence in the area.

Sudan broke diplomatic relations with Chad after the weekend

Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad said his government was "very happy with the presidential statement" from the council. "It's a very clear and strong condemnation of the aggression on Khartoum."

The council on Wednesday is scheduled to discuss the deployment of the joint U.N.-African Union force, which took over peacekeeping duties in Darfur in January from a beleaguered AU force. It only has about 7,500 troops and fewer than 2,000 police on the ground, out of a total of 26,000 that have been authorized.

In a report to the council on Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon said the ongoing violence by rebels groups is challenging the AU-U.N. force, "which is not a peacekeeping force designed to deploy or function in a war zone."

When fully deployed, Ban said, the force will have broad
responsibilities, first and foremost protecting civilians, but it "cannot be a substitute for political engagement."

Thousands attend Sudan 'victory' rally after rebel attack

KHARTOUM, May 14, 2008 (AFP) - Thousands of people on Wednesday demonstrated in Khartoum at a government-organised "victory" rally to denounce Darfur rebels who staged a daring attack on the capital as agents of Israel.

Waving flags and banners, crowds of men, women and school children converged outside army headquarters to hear a speech from President Omar al-Beshir whose government has been fighting rebels in Darfur for more than five years.

Heavily guarded by police and soldiers, the main streets outside the army compound were sealed to traffic. Protestors danced to music, denounced the rebels and shouted religious chants.

Witnesses varied widely on the size of the crowd, some estimating around 7,000 people attended. Others put the figure at 15,000 to less than 20,000.

"They are executing a foreign agenda. Ask yourselves who brought the weapons, the cars, who is paying them to do this," Beshir, dressed in military fatigues, shouted into a barrage of microphones.

Sudan has offered a 250,000 dollar reward for information on the whereabouts or the capture of Khalil Ibrahim, the commander of the Justice and Equality Movement which attacked Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman on Saturday.

"Khalil is an agent for Israel," Beshir said. "Khartoum cannot be governed by someone who sold himself to Judaism and the Crusaders.

"Because of him, women and children have been killed in Omdurman," said Beshir, repeatedly jabbing the air with his walking stick for emphasis.

The army has said that more than 222 people were killed in the rebel assault and clashes outside the city over three previous days, including 34 civilians.

Beshir saluted the security services for their stand and thanked his coalition partner, the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement with whom Khartoum fought a two-decade civil war for its support.

"We're sending a message from here, from Khartoum, from the capital, from Omdurman to all the traitors and agents, the word of the Sudanese nation that victory has happened," Beshir said.

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