Sudan: IRIN News Briefs 31 March

News and Press Release
Originally published
Rebels slam government disruption of Nuba vaccination campaign
The Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) on Tuesday accused the government of violating its own ceasefire by launching a four-pronged military offensive on Heiban, Buram, Western Jabal and Dalami in the Southern Kordofan area of the Nuba Mountains. SPLM spokesman Samson Kwaje said 8,000 people had been displaced in Buram alone, and needed urgent humanitarian assistance having had their crops and granaries looted or burned. He also condemned the government's refusal of flight authorisation for UN flights due to leave on Tuesday for the second phase of a polio vaccination campaign in the Nuba Mountains, but said he was not surprised because of the military campaign in the area. The SPLM also complained of continued government bombings of civilian targets, including hospitals and camps for displaced people in the south. Independent sources confirmed the bombing last week of Yari, Kotobi, Mundri and Lul in Western and Eastern Equatoria. Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) told IRIN on Thursday the second round of vaccinations in the Nuba region, set for this week, had been postponed because government agreement on the Days of Tranquillity required for the exercise had not been secured. Negotiations were continuing to secure dates on which the second round vaccination could go ahead, an OLS official added.

Diplomat claims pressure on Khartoum is support for rebels

The government intended to pursue a peaceful resolution to the war in Sudan, even if it meant the secession of the south, the Ambassador to Kenya, Farouq Ali, said in Nairobi on Wednesday. However, he warned against international pressure on Khartoum which, he said, "translates to direct support to the rebel movement with its intransigence", the Kenyan 'Daily Nation' newspaper reported. Farouq also deflected criticism of recent government bombings in the Nuba Mountains, saying the region was not designated as a ceasefire zone. "We are implementing a partial ceasefire, although we are asking for a comprehensive one," he said, adding that the SPLM was carrying out "a media propaganda campaign" about the attacks. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail on Thursday commended the UN's role in providing humanitarian assistance to war victims in the south, and looked forward to improving performance "in line with directives set out for humanitarian work, and respect for the state's sovereignty and national security".

Rebels attack strategic Kassala airport

SPLM commander John Garang on Thursday said his fighters had been responsible for attack on the airport in the northeastern city of Kassala in which, he claimed, an Antonov bomber, the airport's fuel depot and main ammunition stores had been destroyed. The Sudanese army admitted that the airport tower had been attacked but made no mention of any damage, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported. Garang said the plane had been targeted because it was one of those which has been bombing civilians in south Sudan, and because it was being used to ferry troops from the southern bases of Juba and Wau for the government's eastern offensive. The attack was "very serious" because Kassala is on the main road from Khartoum to Port Sudan, along which all the country's imports and exports pass, the BBC added.

The Unified Military Command of the Sudanese opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the weekend alleged that the government has launched a major military offensive on Hamash Koreb, Wadi, Zahana and Girgir on the eastern front. The "unjustified attack" came at a time when the NDA had presented a new peace proposal and regional efforts to end the conflict were ongoing, NDA spokesman Lt-Gen Said Abd al-Rahman said in a statement on the opposition 'Voice of Sudan' radio. Sudanese army spokesman Staff Lt-Gen Mohamed Osman Yassin, speaking on Thursday on state television, confirmed the fighting in the east and said the areas of Hamadayb, Gagaras and Zahana were now "free from the presence of aggressors". He said the army had inflicted heavy casualties on rebel forces, and would continue to clear the eastern region of "the remnants of traitors and aggressors".

Arab League rejects rebel call for 'no-fly zones'

The Arab League on Tuesday reaffirmed its support for the sovereignty, unity and integrity of Sudan, and voiced its opposition to any attempt to boost "separatist trends" through extending material and military aid, or imposing 'no-fly zones' within Sudan, SUNA reported. The League was responding to the SPLM's call for a no-fly zone to be declared for government aircraft in south Sudan because of indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations. "We urge the international community to declare the New Sudan [the SPLM's terms for the south] a no-fly zone for Government of Sudan planes so as to protect the civilian population," a press release from the rebel movement stated last week.

Government and UN sign rights accord

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, on Wednesday agreed with the government to field an international expert on human rights in Sudan, initially for one year, in order to build the country's capacity to promote and protect human rights. The expert would help formulate technical cooperation projects in the field of human rights, bearing in mind the report of a UN expert mission to Sudan in September 1999, a copy of the accord, received by IRIN, stated. The consultant would also report after a year on future activities to help Sudan develop policies, strategies and programmes to assure the vindication of human rights on the basis of international norms.

Umma Party resumes internal political struggle

The government on Wednesday returned to the opposition Umma Party its headquarters in Omdurman which were confiscated when President Omar al-Bashir seized power in a coup in 1989. Siddiq al-Mahdi, the son of party leader Sadeq al-Mahdi, said the party would "immediately resume political activities" from the offices, Agence France Press (AFP) reported. Party leaders, headed by Omar Nour ed-Daem, would return to Khartoum on 6 April, the report stated. The move follows Umma's recent withdrawal from the NDA and its declaration that its leaders would resume political activities inside Sudan. Mahdi did not say when he would be returning to Sudan from his self-imposed exile, AFP stated. Meanwhile, the leading opposition activist Ghazi Suleiman, leader of the National Alliance for the Return of Democracy, was arrested in his home on Sunday night, the Associated Press agency (AP) quoted the Sudanese Association for Human Rights as saying. The human rights group had noted that Suleiman's arrest followed a press conference earlier on Sunday in which he accused Bashir's government of curbing political freedoms and systematically abusing human rights, the report added.

Government warns of meningitis danger

The ministry of health on Saturday issued a warning to Sudanese civilians to avoid crowded places and direct sunlight in a bid to curb the spread of meningitis, which claimed over 2,000 lives in 1999. "We expect more meningitis to occur with the increasing summer heat," the PanAfrican News Agency (PANA) quoted a ministry statement as saying. It also cited unofficial reports as saying that a sharp rise in temperatures had brought more than 50 deaths in Juba, with fatalities highest among children and the elderly. An official from the WHO confirmed the incidence of meningitis in Sudan - where the disease is endemic and serious outbreaks occur every few years - but said up-to-date information on the number of cases and deaths was not yet available.


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