Integrated Regional Information Networks NEWS
September 1, 2006
Sudanese government forces have recaptured the rebel-held town of Um Sidir near El Fasher, capital of North Darfur State, raising fears that a major new offensive has started in the region, observers said on Friday.
The rebels, who have held the town for some months, have vowed to try to take back the town, an important stronghold, which the government forces overran on Thursday afternoon.
"Six days ago, a bombing campaign started in the area north of El Fasher that lasted a couple of days," a rebel source in Darfur said. "It seems to have been an attempt to soften up resistance in the area and to allow government troops to move in."
The offensive is unfolding despite Thursday's United Nations Security Council resolution authorising the deployment of UN peacekeepers in the western Sudanese region.
Large swathes of territory in North Darfur are under the control of the National Redemption Front (NRF), a new alliance of rebels who did not sign the 5 May Darfur Peace Agreement. In Darfur, local observers have confirmed that a string of villages, including Abu Sakin, Kulkul, Sayah and Turra, approximately 35 km northwest of El Fasher, had been attacked from the air on Monday.
On the same day, 30 vehicles of the Sudanese armed forces entered Abu Sakin and another 40 vehicles took Kulkul, pushing rebel forces out of the area. Government troops then moved further northwards, towards Um Sidir.
"The Sudanese army is creating a buffer zone north of El Fasher to prevent direct attacks on the capital," the observer said. "It seems that the Sudanese forces met relatively little rebel resistance; they simply moved away."
Unconfirmed reports indicated that the rebel NRF was moving southwards with as many as 50 vehicles into the area of Korma and Tawilla, west of El Fasher.
On Thursday this week, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution that calls for a gradual transition from the under-funded and under-equipped African Union (AU) mission in Darfur to a stronger UN protection force. The AU force has been unable to prevent widespread abuses against civilians.
But the deployment of a UN force of 17,500 troops and 3,300 civilian police depends on consent from the Sudanese government, which has rejected calls for a UN force in Darfur. It has instead proposed its own protection plan, which involves deploying another 10,500 Sudanese government troops to "consolidate the security situation". Military cargo planes have been arriving every night in El Fasher with troop reinforcements.
"This [UN] resolution will be meaningless unless member states get Sudan to agree to a UN force," Peter Takirambudde, Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "While the Security Council was debating this resolution on Monday, the Sudanese military was dropping bombs on rebel-held villages, with predictable consequences for civilians."
Since the government and one of the three main rebel factions signed the 5 May agreement, fighting has escalated between signatories and the rebel groups that refused to sign. As many as 50,000 more people have been displaced across the region since May, while nine humanitarian aid workers were killed and 20 vehicles hijacked in July.
"Insecurity is at its highest level since 2004, access at its lowest levels since that date and we may well be on the brink of a return to all-out war," the Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, warned the UN Security Council on Monday.
The World Health Organization has reported that 40 percent of the population in North Darfur State are not receiving health care, while vaccinations have dropped from 90 percent in 2005 to a mere 20 percent in 2006. According to the World Food Programme, 470,000 people across Darfur did not receive their monthly rations in July.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]
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