Fighting over kills scores of government forces
KHARTOUM, Sudan – Fighting over a strategic town in southern Darfur has killed many rebels and government forces over the past week, and the Sudanese air force has bombed several villages, rebels and international observers said Thursday.The clashes began Aug. 1 when rebels captured the town of Adila, where Sudanese troops were stationed to protect the only railway linking Darfur to the capital of Khartoum, rebels said.The Sudanese army and its allied janjaweed militias “were summarily defeated, leaving behind heavy weapons and ammunition,” the rebel Justice and Equality Movement said in a statement.An international observer in Darfur said Sudanese forces had recaptured Adila, located near South Darfur’s border with the neighboring region of Khordofan, but clashes were reported to be ongoing.”It seems over 100 (Sudanese) soldiers or janjaweed have been killed,” the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. At least 10 rebels were killed and 15 injured, he said.Army spokesman Gen. Osman Mohamed al-Agbash indicated there had been heavy fighting over the town but offered no commment on military casualties. He said rebels were falsely claiming that “the army has used air bombing in (the) recapturing of Adila,” according to the Sudan Media Center, a news service deemed close to the government.Observers and rebels Sudan’s air force bombed at least four villages in the area this week, but there were no reports of casualties because many of the civilians had fled.Rebels said they attacked because the janjaweed were burning villages in the area. They said the offensive was led by Abdelazziz Ushar, a Darfur field commander previously fighting a separate rebellion in eastern Sudan.The African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur confirmed there had been heavy fighting, but said it had no details. “The zone around Adila is a no-go area for us,” said AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni.Ethnic African rebels in Darfur took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in 2003, accusing it of discrimination. The government is accused of retaliating by unleashing the janjaweed, which have been blamed for the worst atrocities against civilians in a conflict has left more than 200,000 dead and displaced 2.5 million.A Justice and Equality Movement leader said his group shot down a government MIG-29 fighter jet that was participating in bombings Wednesday, but other rebels disputed the claim.Abdullahi el-Tom told The Associated Press the aircraft’s wreckage had been found 2.8 miles south of Adila, but the pilot had not been located.Rebels from a faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement, however, told international observers the jet crashed because of a mechanical problem.Al-Agbash, the army spokesman, denied the plane was shot down.Military flights are banned over Darfur by several U.N. resolutions and peace agreements, and Sudanese authorities routinely deny conducting air raids.Also Thursday, an ailing rebel chief said he planned to leave a U.N. hospital and ask the United Nations to fly him out of Sudan for further medical treatment.Sudanese authorities have said they would consider an international petition asking for Suleiman Jamous’ safe passage out of the hospital if he commits to peace negotiations.Jamous, a moderate who has been a key link between Darfur rebels and humanitarian workers, said he would take the government at its word.”I am taking their conditions and I’m trying to walk out of the hospital on Monday,” Jamous told The Associated Press on the telephone from the town of Kadugli near Sudan’s Darfur region, where he has been for over a year.The U.N. has said he is free to leave the hospital, but acknowledges he is in danger of arrest or reprisals by the government.Actress Mia Farrow drew added attention to the case this week when she offered to give up her freedom so that Jamous could get safe passage out of a hospital. She said Jamous was important to the civilians of Darfur and would help bring peace to the region.President Omar al-Bashir’s government resisted for months plan to replace the beleaguered 7,000-member AU force in Darfur with U.N. peacekeepers. The U.N. Security Council approved a compromise resolution in July that provides for a joint force of 26,000 U.N. and AU troops that could deploy by the end of the year.—Mohmamed Osman reported for this story from Khartoum and Aflred De Montesquiou from Cairo, Egypt.