Sudan pledges to cease Darfur operations
Sudan has pledged to halt military operations in Darfur, a United Nations spokeswoman said Sunday, but African Union officials said the government had kept up attacks on rebels in the region.
Union officials, in charge of monitoring a truce, said Khartoum had defied a Saturday ultimatum set by Union mediators, who had threatened to refer Sudan and the rebels to the U.N. Security Council if the two sides failed to meet the deadline.
Unknown fighters shot at an African Union helicopter in Darfur on Sunday, but the aircraft landed safely, said AU spokesman Assane Ba, in Abuja, Nigeria. He gave no further details about the helicopter or its occupants.
Charges and countercharges are common in the war in Darfur, a conflict that has defeated three rounds of peace talks and displaced nearly 2 million people since it began in February 2003.
"The government has pledged to halt all (current) military hostilities in Darfur and asked that the rebels do the same," said Radhia Achouri, a U.N. spokeswoman, after a security meeting Sunday between Sudanese government representatives, the United Nations and Western diplomats.
Achouri said the Sudanese government had also agreed to withdraw its troops from some areas in Darfur after it consults with the African Union on exact locations.
A spokesman for the rebel groups said the government and Janjaweed were trying to scuttle the peace talks by launching attacks around the villages of Mala and Arla as late as Sunday morning.
"We're asking the AU and the international community to put more pressure on the (Sudanese) government to stop these barbaric attacks on civilians," said Ahmed Tugod Lissan, a spokesman for two rebel groups.
The Sudanese government requested that the United Nations convey a request for cessation of attacks to the rebels, said Achouri, "So now we are going to relay this to the other party."
The rebels did not issue an immediate response.
Achouri said the United Nations expressed its "concern and that of the international community" over the recent government military operation, code-named "road clearance," in the meeting with Sudan.
The war was sparked in February 2003 when two non-Arab African rebel groups took up arms to fight for more power and resources from the Arab-dominated Khartoum government.
The government allegedly responded by backing the Janjaweed, an Arab militia, which is accused of targeting civilians in a campaign of murder, rape and arson. The United States accuses the Janjaweed of committing genocide.
Disease and hunger have killed 70,000 in Darfur since March, the World Health Organization says.