Sudanese forces bomb Darfur town as pressure mounts on Bashir

Sudanese government planes bombed a key town in south Darfur Jan. 24, a week after its seizure by the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), peacekeepers and insurgents said. Bombs landed close to a base run by the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force, UNAMID, in the town of Muhajiriya and destroyed houses, a UN official said. A senior JEM commander told Reuters 16 civilians were killed in the raid, including a young child. Air attacks in Darfur are forbidden under a 2006 peace deal and UN Security Council resolutions.

UNAMID spokesman Noureddine Mezni said a large number of Muhajiriya residents took refuge in the peacekeepers’ base during the attack. “I can confirm the bombing took place. We are very concerned about the situation,” he said. The attacks were also confirmed by JEM’s chief negotiator, Ahmed Tugud. “The Sudan Armed Forces aircraft are bombing Muhajiriya. There are flames everywhere in the town,” he told Reuters.

JEM commander Suleiman Sandal told Reuters the attack destroyed 25 houses in the settlement, which is close to Nyala, regional capital of South Darfur. “The people of Muhajiriya welcomed us when we took the town. Now the army is punishing them,” he said.

The JEM seized control of Muhajiriya last week from forces led by Minni Arcua Minnawi, the only Darfur rebel leader who signed a peace deal with the government in 2006. UN officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned Reuters that Minnawi’s forces were re-grouping for a counter-attack, possibly backed by government troops.

The reported bombing came a day after a joint UN-AU report said Sudanese government forces had broken international law by firing on civilians during an August raid on South Darfur’s Kalma displacement camp, just 80 kilometers west of Muhajiriya. Tensions have been rising in Sudan as all sides of a the conflict await an International Criminal Court (ICC) decision on whether to issue an arrest warrant against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes. (Reuters, Jan. 24)

Sudan’s most iconic opposition leader, who has inspired Islamist movements across the world on, recently warned the country is at risk of becoming worse than Somalia should central authority break down. Speaking to reporters in Khartoum, Hassan Turabi discussed the possible fallout if the ICC issues an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir.

When asked about a “worst case scenario” for Sudan, the frequently jailed opposition leader evoked Somalia, where no central government has been strong enough to impose its authority since 1991. “This is worse than Somalia, if we lose any order of authority in the constitution. We are not one people like the Somalis or one religion or one language. We are a diversity of peoples,” Turabi said.

Turabi, a mastermind of the 1989 Islamist coup that brought Bashir to power but now his bitter nemesis, said the president should hand himself over to save the country from possible UN sanctions. “Politically we think he is culpable… He should assume responsibility for whatever is happening in Darfur, displacement, burning all the villages, rapes, I mean systematic rapes, continuously, I mean on a wide scale, and the killing,” Turabi said. “Six million of the Sudanese are now paralysed, no agriculture, no animal farming or rearing. He is responsible and we condemn him. He should go there and defend himself… [P]olitically he’s guilty. No doubt about it.” (Middle East Online, Jan. 12)

See our last posts on the Sudan, Darfur and the struggle in the Sahel.