Sudan rebels say air strike kills 25 fighters
A Sudanese warplane killed 25 rebels Wednesday in a bombing raid on a village in western Sudan's troubled Darfur region, a rebel commander said.
Bosh Shag Omar, a Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) local commander, told Reuters by telephone the Russian-built Antonov aircraft bombed the village of Tadit, 25 miles south of the North Darfur capital El Fasher, at 8 a.m. (0100 EST).
"The bombing killed 25 SLA men and many sheep and camels, a lot of houses are burned and civilians are injured," he said.
Aid workers at Zam, a teeming camp south of el Fasher for thousands of people displaced by violence, said they heard planes bombing south of the state capital between 8 and 9 a.m. local time (0100 and 0200 EST) Wednesday.
"You could hear the explosions and see the smoke coming from the south. Everybody in the camp is very nervous," said one aid worker, who asked not to be identified.
The fighting is the latest upsurge of violence in Darfur, where 22 months of conflict have driven some 1.6 million people from their homes, creating what the U.N. calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis and the United States has labeled genocide.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail told reporters the government had instructed the army not to bomb Darfur, but said any such reports would be investigated. He said the government would respond to rebel attacks in self defense.
Suleiman Mohammed Jamous, the SLA humanitarian coordinator, said government forces had launched a counter-attack Tuesday after the rebels entered the town of Tawilla.
"The government is now bombing one of our bases about 20 miles southwest of El Fasher," Jamous told Reuters.
Jamous said the rebels had abandoned Tawilla after two days of heavy fighting with government forces. "Our troops are no longer in Tawilla. We are now back in our camps," he said.
Several weeks of skirmishes between Arab militias and African rebels around Tawilla erupted into heavy fighting when about 100 rebels stormed into the transit town early Monday.
The United Nations has condemned the fresh fighting, which comes two weeks after both government and rebels signed peace protocols in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
"We don't care if the cease-fire collapses," Jamous said by telephone. "We are ready to fight the government anywhere."
Tawilla is an important trade and communications link to the remote west of Darfur, about 36 miles west of El Fasher.
The government says at least 30 policemen were killed in Monday's rebel attack, but has so far denied any bombing.
A 700-strong African Union force has neither the mandate nor the capability to intervene to halt the violence that has engulfed Darfur, an area the size of France.
"We are monitoring the situation and waiting for things to calm down," said one AU officer who did not want to be identified.
The conflict in Darfur started in February 2003 when two non-Arab rebel groups took up arms to fight for more power and resources.
Sudan's government responded by backing the Arab Janjaweed militias, which are now accused of targeting civilians in a campaign of murder, rape and arson. Khartoum denies any wrongdoing, calling the Janjaweed bandits.
International agencies estimate that since March, disease, malnutrition and clashes among the displaced have killed more than 70,000 people in Darfur.