Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sudan Tries 39 for Attack on Khartoum; Deployment of Force to Allow Abyei Residents to Return

Sudan tries 39 for attack on Khartoum

Wed 18 Jun 2008, 14:42 GMT

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan put 39 people on trial on Wednesday accused of taking part in a Darfur rebel attack on the capital last month.

Clashes centred on a suburb of Khartoum left at least 200 dead during the first attack on the city by a rebel group from one of Sudan's regions in decades of multiple civil wars.

Three special courts have been set up to try 13 suspects each, drawing accusations from defence lawyers that they will not get a fair hearing.

The accused are being tried under Sudan's terrorism law and some could face the death penalty.

"These special courts are created by the chief justice, who is appointed by the president and cannot be neutral -- normal courts should be used," one member of the defence team Kamal Omer told Reuters.

The hearing was adjourned to give lawyers time to meet their clients. Defence lawyers said the justice ministry had denied their requests to meet the accused before the first hearing.

The May 10 attack on the western Omdurman suburb was carried out by the rebel Justice and Equality Movement.

Omer said none of the big names the government said had been caught, like senior commander Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr, were in court on Wednesday.

"They are all very young boys, many of them look like they could be between 15-18 years old."

Thousands of Darfuris and other opposition supporters were rounded up for questioning after the attack, prompting rights groups to voice concern.

New York-based Human Rights Watch on Wednesday urged the government to release those arrested or promptly charge them, saying they had spoken to people who described torture and beatings after being detained.

"Eyewitnesses reported to Human Rights Watch the deaths of at least 10 people in detention from ill-treatment and poor conditions in prisons and secret detention centres," it said.

The group also criticised what it called the persecution of journalists and human rights activists since the attack. It also condemned censorship of the independent press, which has been intensified.

"Human Rights Watch urges the international community to immediately and publicly call on Sudan to end all arbitrary arrests and detention," it added.

SUDAN: Joint deployment to pave way for IDP returns

JUBA, 17 June 2008 (IRIN) - The expected deployment of a new Joint/Integrated Unit (JIU) battalion to the oil-rich Sudanese region of Abyei and the removal of separate contingents of northern and southern soldiers will pave way for the return of tens of thousands of people recently displaced by fighting, according to a senior official.

Conceived in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended more than two decades of civil war in Sudan, JIUs are made up of an equal number of troops from the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the south's former rebels. JIUs fall under the command of the Joint Defence Board, an arm of the presidency.

"The Joint Defence Board met and came up with a clear plan for establishing the JIUs," Luka Biong, South Sudan’s minister for presidential affairs, said. "Abyei will be the only place where you have the JIUs in charge of the area. In other places you get the JIU with the SAF or the JIU with the SPLA."

"By 18 June, the JIU will be fully deployed in Abyei area," he added.

Information Minister Chang Changson said there would also be a joint police force from the southern and northern governments. "Once these steps are taken, then the IDPs [internally displaced persons] will return to Abyei," he said on 13 June.

At least 50,000 people fled their homes after fighting broke out between the SPLA and the SAF in Abyei in May. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the fighting sent the largely Dinka Malual and Dinka Ngok residents of Abyei fleeing southwards.

Most ended up in Twic County in Warrab State and Agok, but some headed to Aweil East in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State and Bentiu in Unity State.

The fighting also virtually destroyed the town. Bishop Antonio Menegazzo of El Obeid told reporters at the time that about 90 percent of the huts in Abyei had been destroyed.

On 8 June, the two parties agreed to resolve the conflict. They agreed to deploy the JIU within 10 days, re-deploy SAF and SPLA troops beyond the Abyei administrative area, grant the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) force free movement in the area and appoint new administrators for Abyei.

"The above security arrangements are expected to be in place before the end of June," OCHA said in a 13 June report. "Once they are in place, the displaced civilians are expected to return to their former homes."

The UN, it added, was planning to assist the displaced to return home. It would also assist those that may remain in Abyei South and Twic County areas. To scale up the humanitarian response, a US$7.7 million request has been forwarded to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

Meanwhile, various agencies and NGOs were providing different types of assistance to those affected by the conflict.

Chris Johnson, head of OCHA office in Abyei said once the deployment starts, a de-mining team would go in to clear any unexploded ordnance. "Once it [the area] is cleared, UN agencies will return and start watsan [water and sanitation projects], reconstruction, etc," she told IRIN in Khartoum.

Described by analysts as "Sudan's Kashmir", Abyei has become one of the stumbling blocks to the implementation of the CPA.

The CPA contained a separate protocol on Abyei which granted the region a special administrative status. But many of the protocol's provisions were not properly followed up, and no agreement has been reached on the region's geographic boundaries.

Southern leaders say Khartoum is motivated by Abyei's oil revenues- estimated at US$529 million in 2007.

Khartoum denies this accusation. It also took issue with the appointment in December of the SPLM's unilateral appointment of an administrator for Abyei, Edward Lino.

Lino's appointment sparked clashes after local, pro-Northern Misseriya tribesmen rejected it and formed a group called the Abyei Liberation Front.

Other skirmishes have occurred since then, killing 75 people between December and January. In March, renewed clashes between the SPLA and Misseriya fighters displaced hundreds of civilians from their homes and raised tensions.

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