Home | News    Monday 25 February 2008

Sudan army technical failure caused helicopter crash in Darfur, rebels say shot down

February 24, 2008 (PARIS) — The two Darfur main rebel movements said they shot down a helicopter in Jebel Moun, West Darfur, following an attack by the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed militia, but the Sudanese army denied the rebel claim saying it was a technical failure.

Suleiman Sanal Hagar, a rebel commander in Jebel Moun area from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) on Sunday told Sudan Tribune by satellite telephone from western Darfur that they downed a helicopter gunship in Kondifay, 15 kilometres northern of El-Geinana.

Soon after, Abbas Mohamed Offail, the Sudan Liberation Army commander in the Jebel Moun area informed Sudan Tribune from Darfur saying they downed the military helicopter of the Sudanese army in the area. He added that two helicopters and two Antonov attacked their position during the day since 10 o’clock in the morning.

A military analyst who requested not to be named indicated that the two movements have troops in Jebel Moun, the SLA in the west while the JEM in the east. He further indicated that the Sudanese planes do not distinguish between them and both open fir on the assailant aircrafts.

However in spite of the rebel’s affirmation, the Sudanese army spokesman said today that a helicopter crashed following a technical failure and all the crew was accounted for.

The Sudanese army spokesperson, Osman Al-Aghbash, in his short statement, didn’t elaborate on the cause of the technical malfunction.

Last week the Sudanese army said cleansed Jebel Moun from the rebel presence and the rebel groups said also controlling the area.

Rebel sources said the Sudanese army is keen to secure supplies to a big military base in Kulbus area.

But the Sudan Armed Forces justified its military action last week in the area saying that rebel JEM had cut the road between Kulbus and El-Geneina and deprived the civil population in the area "of the most basic necessities of life, forcing the government often delivering food by air."

The rebels also accuse the government of important military build up in Jebel Moun.

Rebel sources claimed that a military convoy — of 125 pickup truck and 120 big transport vehicles with tanks and heavy artillery – moved from the capital of North Darfur Al-Fasher since two days to the Jebel Moun.

UN CONDEMNATION

Head of the African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission, Rodolphe Adada, and Ameerah Haq, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, issued a joint statement voicing grave concern and calling for access to civilians at risk.

"UNAMID has received reports this morning of aerial bombings in the Jebel Moon area of western Darfur. We’re gravely concerned for the safety of thousands of civilians who are in this area," they said.

"As of this morning, we received an assurance from the Government that civilians will be allowed out of the area and to safety. We are seeking the same assurances from the rebel Movements in the area." The statement underlined.

"Any firing must stop immediately. The risks at this stage to civilians are unacceptably high... We’re seeking humanitarian access," the statement said.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR, has said that two days of heavy bombardments and attacks by the Sudanese army and Janjaweed militia earlier this month in western Darfur prompted about 12,000 more refugees to flee into eastern Chad.

The Darfur conflict marks a grim five-year anniversary on Tuesday with peace talks in tatters, the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission running drastically below capacity and 4.2 million people living on aid handouts.

(ST)