Fresh Darfur violence linked to pending war crimes ruling

 

DARFUR HAS seen some of its worst fighting in a year as rebels opened two fronts against government forces, which retaliated with air strikes.

Meanwhile, aid agencies and diplomats are considering evacuation procedures, while the country waits nervously for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to make its decision on issuing arrest warrants for President Omar al- Bashir.

The result is a country on a knife edge. Last week rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) seized the strategic town of Muhajiriya from a government-aligned rebel grouping.

Yesterday government officials said they had repelled an attack on the capital of north Darfur, El Fasher.

Fouad Hikmat, Sudan expert with the International Crisis Group, said the violence was linked to the pending ICC decision. “The ICC has thrown a new card on to the table and everyone is working out how to play it,” he said. “All of the rebel groups realise that this gives them tremendous leverage. Those that are strong on the ground are making their move so that they are on the front foot when the time for negotiations arrives.”

Muhajiriya lies along supply routes to Nyala, the capital of south Darfur and Sudan’s third largest city. Jem took the town from a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army led by Minni Minawi, who signed a peace deal with Khartoum three years ago. He is believed to be considering returning to the bush, disillusioned with his treatment by the government.

Khartoum responded to his loss of Muhajiriya with air strikes against Jem positions. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence in north and south Darfur. “The secretary general calls on all parties to immediately cease ongoing hostilities and to abide by their obligations under international law,” a statement issued by his spokesperson said.

The joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, tasked with protecting civilians and suppressing the bloody conflict in the region, also expressed grave concern at fighting just outside El Fasher, where the peacekeepers have their base.

Officials reported explosions, shelling and mortars. The sounds of fighter jets and other violence early on Monday morning spurred rumours in El Fasher that the city was under attack by one of the armed movements and that the Sudanese Armed Forces were repulsing the attack.

More than 200,000 people have died in Sudan’s western Darfur region since rebels took up arms against the government almost six years ago.

Peacekeepers deployed a year ago have so far failed to stop the fighting.

Now the country is on tenterhooks once again as it waits for judges at the ICC to decide what action to take against President Bashir. In July the court’s chief prosecutor applied to have President Bashir charged with war crimes, murder and genocide.

Khartoum is awash with rumours that the court will make its decision next week.

Residents of the capital said westerners were stockpiling food and that families of aid workers, diplomats and UN officials had already begun leaving the city.

Many fear outbreaks of civil violence could target European and US nationals.