Rebels warn UN against using Darfur airfields

Minawi’s forces have been engaged in fighting with the government that has been particularly heavy since mid-December. The clashes mark a definitive end of the Abuja Peace Agreement that had nominally brought the movement into national power in 2006.

In Minawi’s warning, sent via e-mail by the SLA legal counsel Abdelaziz Sam on Sunday, the movement claimed that the government has “used aircraft in the commission of atrocities against unarmed citizens.” The statement also accused Khartoum of violating an arms embargo on the region, saying that the government “transferred military equipment into Darfur.”

The rebel leader stated that “60% of the war effort in Darfur is carried out by government airplanes, while the government army and militia on the ground undertake the other 40% of crimes of genocide and ethnic cleansing as the international community turns a blind eye to these atrocities without any mobilization to stop the atrocities by the government against the peoples of Darfur…”

“In the face of this unjust and painful reality, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army… has no choice but to destroy enemy positions, which are part of a system of death and destruction and ethnic cleansing. The movement must act, in the context of its firm commitment to international humanitarian law, to distinguish between civilian and military targets, and therefore warns the UNAMID forces deployed in the Darfur region, United Nations forces in Sudan, and international organizations working in Darfur and across Sudan, to relinquish government airports wherever they are, in Darfur or in the vicinity, because they have become strategic military targets for the forces of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army factions.”

Early in Darfur’s seven year war, a joint force of the SLA and the Justice and Equality Movement launched a raid on El Fasher airport that destroyed a number of parked warplanes. However, since that time no major attacks on airports have occurred.

During aerial bombardment in North Darfur last week, take-off and landing operations at El Fasher airport were heavy and the authorities shut down the runway to UN air traffic.

The UN – African Union peacekeeping mission last Saturday expressed concern at military operations in North Darfur. In a written statement, the Mission’s public information office revealed that the UNAMID Joint Representative “ is particularly disturbed about reports of the most recent recrudescence of violence between Government of the Sudan soldiers and a combined group of elements from several rebel movements” in Shangil Tobaya, a former SLA-Minawi stronghold.

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