Home | News    Friday 20 April 2007

Sudan accuses UN panel of fabricating claims on Darfur

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Sudan accused a U.N. panel on Thursday of trying "to settle political scores" by fabricating claims that the government was conducting bombing raids in conflict-wracked Darfur and disguising planes to look like U.N. aircraft.

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Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem

Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem insisted that photos in the panel’s report of a white plane with "UN" marked on its wings were taken in neighboring Chad or other African countries - not in Darfur. And he said attack helicopters and military aircraft capable of dropping bombs that were photographed in Darfur were there legally.

The ambassador told reporters the panel’s report was leaked this week by "the enemies of peace and stability" in the country to destroy "the very good atmosphere" created after Sudan agreed to the first significant deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur to beef up beleaguered African troops in the vast western region.

"It’s a fabricated report," Abdelhaleem said. "They want to overshadow this. ... They want all this sensation. They want to settle political scores. They are not interested at all in peace and security in Sudan."

The report by a panel of experts monitoring U.N. sanctions against Sudan was sent to the Security Council sanctions committee, which includes all 15 council members. Its findings were first reported in London’s Guardian newspaper on March 28 and in Wednesday’s New York Times, which said it obtained the report from a council member.

The sanctions committee gave council members until Thursday afternoon to decide whether the report should be released, and three countries objected so it won’t be made public, a council diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no announcement has been made.

Abdelhaleem sent a letter to the committee’s chairman, Italy’s U.N. Ambassador Marcello Spatafora, on Thursday saying Sudan was "shocked and outraged" that the report was leaked. He asked Spatafora to investigate which of the 15 council members was responsible so "urgent action" - which he didn’t specify - could be taken against the country.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million made refugees in Darfur since 2003, when ethnically African rebels rose up against the Arab dominated central government. Khartoum is accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes and unleashing militias known as the janjaweed on civilian populations - a charge the government denies.

After five months of stalling, Sudan on Monday gave a green light for the deployment of the U.N.’s so-called "heavy support package" to help the 7,000- strong African Union force in Darfur. It includes 2,250 U.N. troops, 750 international police, and logistical and aviation equipment including six helicopter gunships which Khartoum initially opposed.

The U.N. peacekeeping department held a meeting Thursday for potential troop and police contributors and got the largest turnout ever for a mission in Darfur, said Dmitry Titov, head of the department’s Africa division.

"We stressed that we are seeking predominantly African participation, but it has to be well-prepared, well-equipped troops because the conditions on the ground are prohibitive," he said.

Titov said Nigeria offered an infantry battalion, a hospital and a police unit; Egypt offered medical, signals and other logistics units; Bangladesh offered ground troops, aviation and logistics units; Norway and Sweden are considering supplying a combined engineering and transport unit; and the U.S. expressed interest in contributing to the success of the deployment.

The U.K.’s U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said "we have to do everything possible to produce the heavy support package on the ground at the earliest date ... and we’re not likely to do that before September."

The package is the second phase of a U.N. plan to which Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir agreed in November, but then backed off.

The U.N. and the African Union want the heavy package to be quickly followed by deployment of the third and final phase - a 20,000-strong "hybrid" U.N.-AU force. But U.N. diplomats say that won’t happen until December at the earliest.

In the meantime, the U.N. and the African Union are appealing for financial help for the AU force in Darfur.

The panel’s report, obtained Wednesday by AP, accused the Sudanese government of violating a U.N. arms embargo by flying military aircraft, weapons and ammunition into Darfur. It included photos of military aircraft in South Darfur on Jan. 10 and Jan. 30, and of an attack helicopter in El Fasher, a government- controlled town in North Darfur, on Feb. 26.

Abdelhaleem said the aircraft had been returned to Darfur from southern Sudan as required under the January 2005 peace agreement that ended a 21-year civil war between the mostly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south.

"But no aircraft is there to be deployed for military actions in Darfur itself," he said. "It is there because we have a right to have aircraft. It is for us a deterrence from external threats across the borders. It’s not from within."

On a map of Darfur, the panel showed over 100 black dots where it said incidents of "aerial bombardment" had taken place between October and January.

Asked who else but the government could be responsible for the bombings, Abdelhaleem said: "These are big lies, big lies."

He accused the panel of including the map "to make some people in this area happy."

"They want to hear this music - that Sudan did that, the government did that, they bombed here, they killed there. This is the music that is very much enjoyed by some people here," Abdelhaleem said.

"I want the music to focus on revitalization of the peace process," he said, as well as deploying the heavy support package and "constructive engagement by the three parties - African Union, United Nations and government of Sudan."

The panel’s report also showed photographs of a white Antonov AN-26 twin- engine aircraft with U.N. markings on top of the left wing on the military apron at the airport in El Fasher on March 7 and again on March 27.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed "deep concern" Wednesday at the evidence presented to the council of arms and heavy weapons being flown into Darfur. He asked for full cooperation from the Sudanese government to clarify reports about aircraft with U.N. marking being used "for military purposes," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

Abdelhaleem said Sudan had informed the U.N. several months ago "it is a transport plane ... it has no fighting capability at all. There is no `UN’ at all on it."

The panel’s photos, he said, were "pictures from Chad, from any country in Africa" - not from El Fasher or elsewhere in Darfur.

"It is all fake. Everything is fake," Abdelhaleem said. "The fact that we opened our airfields to them showed that we had nothing to hide."