A deadly wave of government-led bombings and ground attacks hit Darfur early this week, just on the heels of a vow by two prominent rebel leaders to work together for “regime change.” The humanitarian impact of the government’s air strikes and ground attacks were unclear and likely exacerbated by the fact that the government has blocked access for peacekeepers and aid groups to the affected areas.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission, UNAMID, reported yesterday that peacekeepers were responding to the report of a government airstrike in the North Darfur village of Kuma on Tuesday afternoon. The short statement pessimistically noted that the peacekeepers “will attempt” to determine the number of casualties and newly displaced people.
Earlier this week UNAMID confirmed air strikes on the town of Labado and village of Elsheraya in South Darfur state, releasing a statement by Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari calling for “parties to exercise the utmost restraint in the use of lethal force.” UNAMID was quick to raise the alarm about its lack of access, issuing two statements yesterday noting that Sudan’s Humanitarian Aid Commission had restricted movement beyond a 15-kilometer radius of the South Darfur capital of Nyala and that even a UNAMID verification team had been barred.
Radio Dabanga reported that the airstrikes in Labado and Elsheraya killed 13 people, while Sudan Radio Service told Enough that sources on the ground identified 18 dead.
Both radio services also reported ground attacks in the Shangil Tobaya area of North Darfur and the longtime rebel stronghold of Jebel Marra. So far, no reports have emerged of armed responses by the rebel groups.
The location and timing of the attacks suggests the government may be retaliating for the announcement on Saturday that the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement factions led by Abdel Wahid and Minni Minnawi would join forces with the goal of overthrowing President Omar al-Bashir. The areas targeted by this week’s government offensive are seen as under the control of or sympathetic to Minnawi and Wahid.
The agreement states, “[T]he Sudanese crisis is comprehensive and deeply rooted. The conflict in Darfur can only be resolved as part of the overall Sudanese crisis.” An SLM spokesman quoted by the Sudan Tribune added that the Minnawi-Wahid pact “is a another step towards the reunification of all the armed movements in Darfur in the near future, [which is…] a fundamental condition to achieve legitimate inspirations of Darfur people for security justice and development.”
A Sudanese government spokesman responded to news of the Minnawi-Wahid pact by saying that Khartoum had hoped the rebels would come together to negotiate in Doha, “not to forge an alliance for war.” But according to the Sudan Tribune’s reporting, he warned, “it would not stand idle in face of security threats.”
The increasingly militaristic rhetoric on the part of the rebel groups and the government’s no-holds-barred reaction suggest that the major players are increasingly seeing the solution to Darfur’s long conflict as a zero-sum game.
Photo: An elder from South Darfur describes an attack on his village. (Enough/Laura Heaton)