By GETHIN CHAMBERLAIN, The Scotsman
LABADO, Sudan, May 31, 2005 — Confidential African Union (AU) reports have provided damning new evidence of the involvement of Sudanese government forces and their Janjaweed militia allies in the murder and rape of civilians in the Darfur region.
|African Union ceasefire monitor Maj. Panduleni Martin from Zambia, center, talks with Commander Abdul Waheed Saeed, center-left, who is in charge of a military unit calling themselves variously the Border Intelligence Division, Second Reconnaisance Brigade, believed to form part of the Janjaweed militia, at the weekly animal market in Mistiria in North Darfur, Sudan, Tuesday, Oct 5, 2004.(AP)|
AU monitors have collected photographic evidence of Sudanese helicopter gunships in action attacking villages, and their reports conclude that the Sudanese government has systematically breached the peace deals that it signed to placate the United Nations Security Council.
Reports from Darfur indicate that air attacks on villages have continued amid defiance of UN resolutions calling on the Khartoum regime to disarm the Janjaweed, with the latest helicopter attack in south Darfur reported to have taken place on 13 May as the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, was preparing to visit the province.
Pictures taken by AU monitors document attacks by a Sudanese helicopter gunship on the village of Labado in December, a month after the Sudanese government gave an assurance that there would be no more such attacks. The Sudanese government markings are clearly visible on the tailfin of the helicopter.
The village was visited by Mr Annan last week as he toured the region to see for himself whether anything had changed a year after he first visited Darfur.
The government in Khartoum has consistently denied using air attacks against villagers, insisting that they have only been used defensively against attacks by rebel forces.
The US and British governments have accepted Sudanese assurances that there have been no air attacks since February, but the anti-genocide Aegis Trust - which is campaigning for an enlarged AU force to be sent to Darfur - claims it has received reports of a bombing raid involving an Antonov aircraft on 23 March and a helicopter attack in south Darfur on 13 May witnessed by AU monitors.
Yesterday, Dr James Smith, Aegis’s chief executive, said: "Reports of airstrikes against civilians in Darfur highlight the urgent need for a UN mandate for peace enforcement operations in the region. The British government should show leadership on this issue and table such a resolution at the Security Council immediately."
The African Union currently has about 2,300 troops in Darfur, along with hundreds of police officers, and last week a conference of international donors pledged about $200 million in additional funding to pay for an enlargement of the force. However, there is still a significant shortfall on the $700 million the AU estimates it needs to fund a successful mission.
Since last year, the AU’s ceasefire monitors have been attempting to investigate reports of attacks by government, Janjaweed and rebel forces. Their confidential reports reveal in stark detail the scale of the attacks and provide conclusive proof that Sudanese government forces have carried out illegal attacks on civilians.
A report into two attacks on the village of Marla on 8 and 16 December described how the AU team came upon Sudanese government forces in the process of attacking the village.
"The GOS [government of Sudan] forces were fire-supported by helicopter gunships which bombarded the edges of the village and flew over the area for about 30 minutes thereafter," the report said.
"The team also found some unexploded rockets in the village. During the team investigation on 16 December, the GOS soldiers were still burning houses, looting and harassing the citizens of Marla."
Major Omar Bashir, the GOS commander, told the monitors that his company entered Marla on 17 December at 0800 hours escorted by helicopter gunships which were used to provide protection and direction to the area.
He said he was deployed in the area to provide security and wait for the police who would be deployed there in a few days. He said that when he arrived, he saw that part of the village was burnt. There was no resistance to entering the village, he added.
But a local citizen told a different story. Adam Juma Amar said the first attack on 8 December involved troops firing and burning houses. Eight days later, he said, a group of soldiers returned.
He said: "On entering the village, they were escorted by two helicopter gunships firing at the edge of the village. They flew over the area for almost 30 minutes before they left."
He said the soldiers set fire to houses and set up a base next to a water borehole to prevent the residents using it.
"Some soldiers were within the village, looting, burning houses and stores," he added.
The report - marked "AU confidential" - is accompanied by pictures of Sudanese soldiers involved in the act of looting. It also contains an interview with a man who was shot in the head
The report concluded that Sudanese forces had attacked Marla. "This has led to looting, burning of houses and massive displacement of villagers," the report said. "These actions by the GOS constitute serious violations of Article 2 (2) of the ceasefire agreement of 8 April 2004 in Ndjamena and Abuja Protocol on Security of 9 November 2004."
Meanwhile, Sudan has also denied there is widespread rape in Darfur, but confidential AU reports from monitors on the ground paint a different picture. An AU team - which went to the Abushok camp to investigate the shooting in the back of a man by Sudanese soldiers on 5 January this year - reported that witnesses there had complained of widespread rape and "rampant harassment" of women.
After examining the body of Abdul Halmin Abdul and concluding that he had been killed unlawfully by Sudanese soldiers, Lieutenant-Colonel Ahmed Fouad noted: "During the investigation, cases of rape were highlighted by the witnesses. They claimed that GOS soldiers usually come to the camp and forcefully take away their girls to unknown locations and rape them.
"One of the witnesses solicited for the AU to quickly notify the Sudanese government of the atrocities being committed by GOS soldiers at the camp, especially the cases of rape."
In his report, Lt-Col Fouad recommended that the AU put pressure on the Khartoum regime to "check the menace of rape" at the camp.
During another investigation, into the killing of 12 villagers in the area of Umm-Ba’oud five days later - which the AU team also concluded was the work of the Janjaweed militia and the responsibility of the Sudanese government - more evidence emerged of the targeting of women.
The AU team concluded that "the soldiers from the GOS camp [at Shangil Tobaya] constantly harass women including female teachers in the area."
In Labado last week, Kofi Annan saw for himself the results of the Sudanese government attacks as he walked among the burned huts and spoke to survivors. One woman described to him how five government planes had bombed the town and the AU commander there told the UN secretary-general that 105 people had died in the town during an attack on 17 December.
At the time, Najib Abdulwahab, the then Sudanese government’s minister of state for foreign affairs, denied AU reports that helicopters were attacking the town, claiming instead that they were fighting off an insurgent offensive.
"What the government is doing in these areas is actually within its sovereign rights," he said at the time.
But the AU’s own confidential report into the attacks demonstrates the difficulties faced by the AU monitors, who accused the Sudanese army commander in the town of lying to them to keep them out.
"Team established that GOS forces supported by Janjaweed attacked the village, killing five people and burning down part of the village," the report said.
"The GOS commander said he could not guarantee their safety as rebels were still in the village. The GOS commander lied to the military observer team about the Janjaweed/armed militia on the northern area of their defensive position by saying that they were IDPs [internally displaced people]." The team found five corpses in the fields outside the village and reported that they saw about 500 Janjaweed on horses and camels. Two days after the attack, an AU helicopter came under fire as it returned to the village in an attempt to offer medical assistance. The team was again turned away.
"GOS commander said it was too dangerous to go into the village due to the presence of armed elements. Helicopter took off and flew over the village," the report said.
"They observed lots of human movement, some houses that were still burning.
"After landing at Nyala airport, the post-flight physical checks revealed that the aircraft had been shot on the tail boom; two bullet holes, the entry and the exit points."
The team concluded that the helicopter had been shot at by Janjaweed militia as it flew over Labado.
Another report records how monitors who went to the scene of an attack in the village of Solokoya on 10 January found it deserted save for a few people in the fields outside. "All witness accounts revealed that the village was attacked by armed militia supported by the GOS which resulted in the death of many civilians and damage to properties," the report said.
"Inspection revealed every house in the village to be burned and there were no possessions in the charred remains of the village."
Witnesses told the monitors that people were shot and killed in a number of locations.
"Significant quantities of blood supported this evidence and photographic evidence was taken," the report added, concluding that the presence of empty cartridges and bullet holes supported claims that high-velocity rifles and machineguns had been employed during the attack and that the attackers wanted to destroy the village as well as kill some of the inhabitants.
Yesterday, the group Human Rights Watch, which is campaigning for an enlarged AU force to be sent to Darfur, warned that attacks continued to take place.
"There is a lot of insecurity on the ground and it is still far too dangerous for people to return home," said a spokeswoman.