April 27, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebels swept through Umm Rawaba in North Kordofan state on Saturday morning in an attack that took the Sudanese government and observers by surprise.
- FILE - An armoured column of JEM vehicles drive in Darfur region (Reuters)
The rebels stormed the major town which lies around 500 kilometers south of the capital Khartoum utilizing 150 vehicles and killed 9 policemen, including a lieutenant, before withdrawing at approximately 2:00 pm local time.
The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) spokesperson, Colonel al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad, said that troops confronted the rebels after they arrived in Abu Kershola in the far north of South Kordofan state, adding that rebels then looted Alla-Kareem village before targeting Umm Rawaba.
Al-Sawarmi, who didn’t mention any killings, said that rebels destroyed the communication tower and electricity station in Um Rawaba and looted civilian property as well as gas stations.
He did not explain why the army did not stop them before they reached North Kordofan.
The Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which launched an unprecedented assault on Sudan’s twin capital city of Omdurman in May 2008, confirmed its role in the attack.
"This is part of our strategy to overthrow the regime and we want to weaken the troops on the road towards Khartoum," JEM spokesman Gibril Adam Bilal told Agence France Presse (AFP).
"This is an attack deep in Sudanese territory" Bilal added.
JEM is member of the SRF, which also includes the Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) fighting the army in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. It also includes the factions of Sudan Liberation Movement led by Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM) and another of Abdel-Wahid Mohamed Nur (SLM-AW).
"This is a significant shift in the war in Sudan," Nur told AFP. "We are heading to Khartoum," he said. "This is not a joke."
Eyewitnesses inside Um Rawaba confirmed to Sudan Tribune the death of nine policemen at the hands of the rebels who, according to the sources, refrained from targeting civilians while they destroyed the judiciary headquarters, the power station and attacked three banks but were unable to rob them.
The eyewitnesses further added that rebels warned civilians against leaving their homes and informed them of potential aerial bombardments by SAF.
SAF’s warplanes hovered over the city for hours but did not carry out any bombings, the eyewitnesses said.
Umm Rawaba, with a population of several thousands, is about 100 kilometers east of the state capital El Obeid, home to a military airbase.
According to the same sources, SRF descended on the city from three directions, forcing authorities to shut down the main highway which connects Khartoum to the White Nile and North Kordofan states.
Hundreds of Um Rawaba residents, who gathered in the city’s hospital where bodies of the 9 policemen lie, chanted anti-government slogans especially upon arrival of the city mayor.
Later in the day, SAF spokesperson told Sudan news agency (SUNA) that the "defeated" rebels withdrew and that the army is chasing the fighters who fled in different directions.
Fighting between the rebels and the army has been so far mainly limited to Darfur as well as South Kordofan and Blue Nile states bordering South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in 2011.
Sudan’s 2nd Vice president, Al-Haj Adam Youssef, lambasted SRF saying that their acts are aimed at destroying the economic infrastructure of the country, stressing that his government would not “bend”, calling upon SRF to lay down arms and “bow to peace”.
The Sudanese parliament, in an emergency session for its subcommittee on members’ affairs yesterday, described the SRF move as an aggression to strip the nation from its gains and capabilities, calling for the need to defeat SRF militarily and popularly.
The parliament further announced that it will be summoning the defence minister to testify before it on Monday on the circumstances of the attack and taking the necessary measures to "eliminate" the SRF and its pockets.
On a separate front, the Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) which is part of the SRF, said it had seized Alremaila, Alkibeba, Alshiheta and Albejaya east of South Kordofan capital of Kadugli.
"[T]hese villages were controlled by popular defense forces and militias they inflicted heavy casualties both men and military equipment, this in retaliation to the killing of children and displace and looting the innocent people" SPLM-N statement said.
There was no comment from SAF on the SPLM-N claims.