January 27, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – Sudanese army on Wednesday carried out an aerial bombardment on rebel-controlled areas in north Darfur and threatened to "burn down" a base of the UN-AU hybrid peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) in the area.
Troops of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) clashed a day before on Tuesday with rebels from the Sudan Liberation Movement of Abdel Wahid Al-Nur joined by combatants of the disaffected SLM faction of Minni Arkoi Minnawi in Tabit area, 45 kilometers from El-Fasher, the provincial capital of North Darfur state.
On Wednesday, SAF forces resumed bombardment of Tabit area, which prevented a UNAMID’s verification team based in Shangil Tobaya from accessing the area, the hybrid operation said today.
The mission further reported that at 06:00pm (local time) approximately 200 SAF soldiers, on 40 vehicles, surrounded the mission’s base in Shangil Tobaya and the adjacent makeshift camp.
The commander of SAF forces, who detained four people in the area, initially said they were there to persuade displaced persons to return to their homes. Moreover, the SAF commander later threatened to "burn down" the makeshift camp and the UNAMID site if the peacekeepers continued to interfere. UNAMID said SAF forces had eventually left after its peacekeepers held their grounds.
The standoff between SAF and UNAMID comes at a time when the mission faces international calls to act as aggressively as its mandate authorizes it to act in protecting civilians.
Members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Wednesday received a briefing via a video link by UNAMID chief Ibrahim Gambari and later criticized the Sudanese authorities for curtailing the mission’s right to access areas in the region.
The US envoy also appeared unhappy with the mission’s failure to function in accordance with its mandate to protect civilians.
"UNAMID is a Chapter 7 mission, with a robust protection of civilians mandate. And the United States view and the view of many members of the Council, as expressed today and on numerous previous occasions, is that we expect UNAMID, as one of the UN’s largest and most costly operations, with one of the most robust mandates passed by this Council, to be very active and, when necessary, aggressive, in fulfilling its mandate to protect civilians," Rice said.
Internally Displaced Persons from Darfur told Sudan Tribune that the recent violence displaced thousands of people as the government troops and militias continue to harass the civilians and burn their villages.
A female teacher from Tabit reached by Sudan Tribune after their arrival to Zamzam IDPs camp near El-Fasher said since the bombing of 25 January, the villagers, 17000 families, fled to Zamzam, and Rwanda camps near Tawilla.
"People are homeless in the valleys and roads as the army block the roads," she said, adding "this is the new policy of peace".
A local chief from Al-Salam IDPs camp told Sudan Tribune that the Sudanese troops burnt down seven villages in the area located south-west of El-Fasher on the period of Saturday to Tuesday of this week.
Oumda Atem Osman said the army detained 80 people from Abu Zarka area in north Darfur. He further said their belongings and properties were looted by the militiamen who attacked the villages jointly with the army.
He further deplored the position of the peacekeepers on the ground adding that in the areas of Tawilla and Korma the militiamen seized the harvest of farmers but the UNAMID members were unable to stop them.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) today denounced the growing violence against civilians in Darfur and urged the international community to not forget Darfur by focusing only on the independence of South Sudan.
"While the international community remains focused on South Sudan, the situation in Darfur has sharply deteriorated," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "We are seeing a return to past patterns of violence, with both government and rebel forces targeting civilians and committing other abuses."
UNAMID is the largest U.N.-funded peacekeeping mission established in 2008 under VII of the United Nations Charter to protect civilians in Darfur region. The mission’s current strength stands at 88% of its total 26,000 authorized strength, but it says its job to secure the remote area is difficult in the absence of a peace deal between Khartoum and rebels.
Meanwhile, Sudan’s official news agency SUNA reported on Thursday that SAF’s commander-in-chief of the western military zone had declared the areas of Tabit and all areas in east Mara Mountains “completely devoid” of rebel forces.
Darfur conflict broke out in 2003 after rebels belonging mostly to African ethnic groups took up arms against the government. At least 300,000 people died and 2.7 million lost their homes since the conflict erupted, according to UN estimates.