Helicopter attack hits African Union's bid for Sudan peace

Click to follow
The Independent Online

International efforts to bring peace to Sudan suffered a major setback yesterday when the African Union suspended operations in south Darfur following an attack on one of its helicopters amid renewed fighting.

International efforts to bring peace to Sudan suffered a major setback yesterday when the African Union suspended operations in south Darfur following an attack on one of its helicopters amid renewed fighting.

The incident in the Labado area east of Nyala, capital of south Darfur, came as the helicopter was on its way to investigate an upsurge in fighting between Sudanese government and rebel forces. The AU's role is to monitor the ceasefire, which has been blatantly disregarded in recent weeks.

"We have to condemn this," said Jean-Baptiste Natame, a senior AU political officer based in Khartoum, who noted it was not the first time that an AU vehicle has been targeted in the past few days. "If we can't go anywhere without being shot at, it is a serious problem for us."

He said that it was not yet known whether the government or rebel forces were responsible for Sunday's attack on the AU helicopter, which was pockmarked by bullet holes. Nobody was injured.

The United Nations Security Council is due to meet today, at Britain's request, for a briefing on the latest developments which have prompted strong condemnation from the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and the International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn.

"Recent rebel attacks on Tawilla and on humanitarian convoys in Darfur, along with the murder of two Save the Children UK staff are particularly horrific," Mr Benn said in a statement. "It is imperative that all parties return to the AU-mediated negotiations in Abuja [the capital of Nigeria], which is the only way that the suffering of the people of Darfur can be brought to an end."

Save the Children has suspended operations in south Darfur its relief workers were killed on 12 December.

The Sudanese government ordered its troops yesterday to observe a ceasefire in three Darfur regions, but there was no confirmation it would be observed. A rebel spokesman warned that the entire peace process could be in jeopardy.

Mr Straw blamed the latest violence squarely on the Khartoum government, although he noted that both sides had broken the ceasefire.

The conflict has displaced 1.6 million people, killed tens of thousands, and been described by the UN as the world's worst humanitarian disaster. The government has been criticised for failing to disarm the Arab militias, who have carried out ethnic cleansing on a wide scale by burning villages and forcing people from their homes.

"The recent actions by the government of Sudan have been carried out in defiance of the obligations placed upon it by three UN Security Council resolutions on Sudan," Mr Straw said. If the council received confirmation of additional ceasefire violations, he said Britain would expect it to take "further action".

Today's briefing could provide the ammunition for the Security Council to take such action, amid calls for the AU mandate to be toughened. At present, the 800 AU soldiers deployed in a region the size of France only have the task of monitoring the ceasefire and not of peacekeeping or protecting the civilian population.

Comments