New battle of Omdurman: Sudan-Chad war next?
Back in February, rebels in Chad penetrated N'Djamena, the capital, after driving across hundreds of miles of desert from the east in a fleet of armed pick-up trucks. Chad's government quickly accused Sudan of supporting the operation. On May 10, Darfur's rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) penetrated Khartoum, Sudan's capital, after driving across hundreds of miles of desert from the west in a fleet of armed pick-up trucks. Sudan's government quickly accused Chad of supporting the operation—and broke off diplomatic relations.
Jeffrey Gettleman in a May 12 New York Times headline called the attack "Quixotic," and said many in Khartoum are asking "What were the rebels thinking?" He notes that even the now co-governing Sudan People's Liberation Movement, which fought its own 20-year war against Khartoum, condemned the attack. The Chinese agency Xinhua May 11 called the attack "politically suicide" for the JEM. The exile-based opposition Sudan Times May 10 reported that the SPLA's first vice president Salva Kiir, who is the acting Sudanese president while President Omar al-Bashir is in Saudi Arabia, said the "Darfur issue is a political issue which should be resolved through dialogue."
The rebels were beaten back in a battle at Omdurman, on the northwest outskirts of Khartoum. The Sudan Times reported May 11 it had been assured by a JEM spokesman via telephone that the organization's leader Khalil Ibrahim had escaped and is "now with his people in Darfur carrying out his responsibilities of leading the movement." Al-Arabiya TV broadcasting from Dubai had reported that Ibrahim has been captured. The government has announced a reward of $125,000 for information leading to his capture.
Sudan TV said Ibrahim had been wounded and soldiers are hunting him down in the capital. (ST, May 11) Government troops paraded in Omdurman with the JEM's captured vehicles, and put captured fighters on TV to publicly confess that they were trained in Chad. (ST, May 11) Chad denied the charges, and protested what it called a "raid" on its Khartoum embassy by Sudanese security forces. (AFP, May 12)
Two days after the Omdurman attack, Hassan Turabi, leader of the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCC), was arrested by the regime in a surprise move. Turabi was detained just an hour after returning from a meeting of his party. "They want to blame the party for what has happened," said his son Siddig al-Turabi. An Islamist ideologue and brain behind the National Islamic Front coup that brought Omar Bashir to power in 1989, Turabi was imprisoned from 1999-2000 following a bitter power struggle. (New Sudan Vision, Canada, May 11)
The audacious JEM attack also came days after an air crash killed two leading members of the SPLA—presidential advisor on decentralization Justin Yac Arop, and Lt. Gen. Dominic Dim Deng, a minister in the government of Southern Sudan. Authorities say it was accident, but Salva Kiir is calling for an investigation. (New Sudan Vision, May 3) (SPLA leaders are doubtless recalling the death of the movement's top leader John Garang in a 2005 air crash.)
On May 4, the JEM website asserted that the government of Sudan has contracted 250 Iraqi pilots for aerial bombardment in Darfur. The pilots said to be based at Alfashir. The report claimed that "the last two airplanes shot down by JEM in Elgeneina area were flown by Iraqi pilots." The report also claimed Sudan is using Ilyushin cargo planes to fly more rockets into Alfashir for use in MIG warplanes based there, and that Sudan has unmanned drones based at Nyala for surveillance of Darfur.