Sudan bombs rebel areas in Darfur after AU peacekeeper visit

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The Independent Online

Sudanese forces bombed two rebel locations in Darfur just days after the head of the African Union's peacekeeping force visited the area to urge the rebels to join a cease-fire agreement, the AU said yesterday.

A Sudanese government aircraft on Friday bombed Anka and Um Rai in North Darfur province where Gen. Luke Aprezi had met on Wednesday with rebels, an AU statement said.

"When a bombing is made after I have visited an area, my credibility is involved," Aprezi told The Associated Press by telephone from Khartoum, Sudan's capital. "To that group, I don't have any credibility anymore."

The incident jeopardizes efforts to bring additional groups into the cease-fire that a single rebel faction and the government signed in May 2006, the AU said.

The AU checked the rebels' reports on Friday's attacks with soldiers from its peacekeeping mission in the area. But Aprezi declined to give details about any casualties, damage caused by the bombings or the quantity of explosives used.

The AU obtained consent from Sudanese officials in Darfur and the capital ahead of meeting the rebels, it said in the statement. It called Friday's attack "a seriously disturbing development."

Sudanese officials were not immediately available for comment.

Efforts to broaden the Darfur Peace Agreement have failed and the United Nations and aid workers report that violence has increased since the signing.

Sudan's president agreed last week to accept UN support to beef up the underfunded 7,000-strong AU peacekeeping force charged with monitoring the cease-fire in the troubled area that approximately the size of France.

The first group of UN experts - 43 military staff officers and 24 policemen - have arrived in Sudan and will deploy to Darfur after a week of orientation, Aprezi said.

Conflict erupted in Darfur in February 2003 when the mostly African ethnic tribes rebelled against the Arab central government. Violence has claimed some 200,000 lives and forced 2.5 million people from their homes in this vast arid area.