Warplanes, Janjaweed attack Darfur towns

Jan Eliasson, UN special envoy for Darfur, warns that deployment of peacekeeping forces continues to be stalled and that rebel groups show little willingness to enter peace talks. (NYT, Feb. 9) Meanwhile, the ongoing carnage barely gets headlines anymore. This Feb. 8 Reuters account rated less than two column-inches at the bottom of page 5 in the following day’s Times:

Sudanese government aircraft, army and militia attacked three towns in West Darfur state on Friday, causing heavy civilian casualties, Darfur rebels and witnesses said.

“The government attacked the town of Abu Surouj this morning … a direct attack with cars and horses and bombardment,” Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) commander Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr told Reuters from Darfur.

“Now they have continued their aggression to three towns … including Suleia.” He put the initial death toll at around 200 but said it was hard to tell because the army was still there.

The governor of West Darfur state Abu el-Gasim confirmed the armed forces had moved on Sirba, Suleia and Abu Surouj — the last a city of some 150,000 people that also houses displaced people from other attacks — to retake them from the rebels.

But he denied any casualties or bombing.

“There were a few houses burnt but no wounded and no civilians have been killed. I was following the situation carefully,” he told Reuters.

Residents of el-Geneina, the state capital, told Reuters they could hear Antonov planes flying nearby and had seen helicopters. Darfur rebels say they controlled the area north of el-Geneina, where they have often fought army troops, and which aid workers have been forbidden from entering.

Ashr had said previously that the rebels had expected the attacks because Khartoum had again mobilized militia groups, known locally as Janjaweed, in the area.

Yehia Abakr, a resident of Sirba, told Reuters by telephone he fled the town centre when the forces attacked.

“They have killed many people,” he said.

AP reports Jan. 9 that the air-strikes have sent thousands of refugees fleeing across the border into Chad—which has already been destabilized by the Darfur crisis. The report said the Sudanese government had confirmed strikes against the towns of Sirba, Sileia and Abu Suruj.

See our last posts on Darfur, and the politics of the Sahel.