May 31, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - The Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebels said Friday they downed a military helicopter near Abu Kershola where a Sudanese army top commander was on a visit to inspect the recently reclaimed area, but the army denied the rebel claims.
- Sudanese army chief-of-staff, Lieutenant General Ismat Abdel-Rahman (SUNA)
SRF spokesperson Abu El-Gassim Al-Haj said in a statement released today that the military plane had been downed in an attack carried by the SRF artillery forces army positions, adding that all the crew members were killed.
Gibril Adam, spokesman for the Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) told Reuters its fighters had attacked a government convoy carrying Sudan’s army chief of staff, Ismat Abdelrahman, just outside Abu Kershola.
"We managed to shoot down a helicopter and hit another one," Adam said, adding that nine people had been killed in fighting.
The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) spokesperson, Al-Sawarmi Khaled, in Khartoum denied the rebel statements, and said the helicopter crashed due to technical failure during combing operations carried out by the army in Abu Kershola.
However, sources told Sudan Tribune that Sudanese army Chief of Staff narrowly escaped death when he visited the area’s frontlines. The shelling started on his convoy from rebels in mountains nearby prompting Sudanese troops to use tanks and helicopters to secure and evacuate the senior army official safely.
In the process a helicopter was shot down, the sources add.
Eyewitnesses speaking to Reuters and Agence France Presse (AFP) confirmed the incident.
A witness told Reuters heavy shooting broke out after rebels opened fire on the convoy carrying General Abdel-Rahman and the army had used tanks and a helicopter, which apparently was hit.
"I saw a helicopter in the air clouded in smoke," the witness said.
"During a visit by senior army officials, shots were fired at army positions in the town from the north, and the assailants exchanged fire with the army, who were using tanks," the witness told AFP under condition of anonymity.
He also said he had "seen smoke and flames coming out of a helicopter," and that after the incident, "the aircraft that transported the officials left the town".
Abu-Kershola which is located in north east of South Kordofan state and on the border with North Kordofan, had been seized by the rebel Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) fighters on 27 April, but SAF was able to recapture the town this week.
Earlier on Friday, Abu Kershola received a military delegation led by SAF chief-of-staff, Lieutenant General Ismat Abdel-Rahman to celebrate the recapture of the town from the rebels and to inspect the troops.
General Abdel-Rahman, who was accompanied by senior military officers to visit the area, has affirmed SAF’s determination to defeat the armed rebel groups and regain control over all Sudan’s territory.
In a speech to the troops hours before the attack on Friday, Abdel-Rahman said that the liberation of Abu-Kershola is a "message to the enemies of Islam and Sudan", stressing that SAF is "resolved to liberate every inch of the Sudan’s territory and cleanse the Nuba Mountains of rebels and mercenaries".
The Sudanese general was alluding to the SPLM-N rebels who control the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan state since June 2011. Recently the SPLM-N and its allied Darfur rebel groups established a joint command in Kauda, one of thetown in the troubled state.
Abdel-Rahman further praised the "heroic role" of SAF’s officers, and soldiers as well as the Mujahideen (holy fighters) of the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) and other regular forces.
The commander of SAF’s force which recaptured the town, Adel Ali Al-Kanani, for his part, said that the battle in Abu-Kershola stressed that "the enemy suffered a decisive defeat".
Following SAF’s recapture of Abu-Kershola, the SRF announced that it had decided to withdraw its fighters from Abu-Kershola due to the economic blockade imposed by the Sudanese army on the town since last April and its disastrous humanitarian impact on the civilians.
They further said that their operation was a positive test for their plans and future attacks aiming to extend the war into other regions in order to topple the regime.
The eastern South Kordofan town also received on Friday a convoy of humanitarian assistance from Um Ruwaba, a town in North Kordofan the rebels attacked before to seize Abu Kershola, to support the civilians who suffered the lack of food during the last weeks.
On the other hand a delegation composed of South Kordofan state officials visited people displaced from Abu Kershola in Al-Rahad town in North Kodofan.
The visiting delegation which was mainly composed of officials from the Nuba Mountains meant to alleviate their suffering after the "negative repercussions" of the attack on Abu Kershola said Omar Rahama Al-Nour director of Nida for Aid and Development, a Sudanese aid group.
The government accused the SPLM-N rebels from the Nuba Mountains of killing some traditional and local leaders in Abu Kershola during the past weeks when they controlled the area.