Rebel and Sudan government forces have been massing in Sudan’s Darfur region, raising fears of new violence, peacekeepers said a day after the United States demanded concrete moves towards peace in the territory.
The joint UN-African Union UNAMID force said there were signs of military escalation in the north of the region, where two million people have fled more than six years of conflict.
“It is like when you look at the sky and see thunder clouds massing. We have seen a build up in the number of troops, movements of troops, setting up of defensive positions,” UNAMID communications chief Kemal Saiki told Reuters today.
“There are signs that our military can read and they have concluded that there is a probability that armed confrontation could spring up.”
Sudan’s army was not immediately able to comment. The insurgent Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) loyal to Abdel Wahed Mohamed al-Nur, which UNAMID said was also massing troops, denied the report.
Yesterday Washington announced a new policy to end violence in Darfur and Sudan’s semi-autonomous south before national elections next year.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said one of the main aims of the new package of incentives and penalties was to press Sudan to bring “an end to conflict, gross human rights abuses, war crimes, and genocide in Darfur”.
The UNAMID warning will raise questions about the willingness of both Khartoum and Darfur’s fractured rebels to stop the fighting which flared in the western territory in 2003.
Nur refuses to take part in talks until there is a return to full security in the region.
Negotiations have also been dogged by rebel divisions. Efforts to unify them were set back this week when Nur’s forces told Reuters that one of their senior commanders had been detained by Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
Senior JEM official Al-Tahir al-Feki told Reuters some SLA commanders had “confronted” JEM forces in North Darfur last week and JEM had “reacted”, but declined to go into further detail.
JEM has been holding troubled talks with Khartoum in Qatar this year. But the next round has faced repeated delays and both sides accuse each other of continued military activities.
Fighting has declined from the early days of the conflict. But skirmishes have continued, most recently between Khartoum and Nur’s forces in North Darfur in September.
Washington accused Khartoum of committing genocide when it launched military and militia strikes to crush the uprising by mostly non-Arab rebels who are demanding better representation and more development. Sudan’s government rejects the term genocide and accuses the Western media of exaggerating the conflict.
UNAMID said in a statement that the build-up of forces was around the settlements of Sortony and Kabkabiya in North Darfur. Any new clashes would inevitably lead to civilian and military casualties, it added, urging the parties to return to dialogue.
Pic: AU Peacekeepers