Sudan has quietly granted permission to use its airspace to nations enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya as US, French, British and other air forces try to pummel the Libyan military, envoys told Reuters.
The United Nations has said nearly a dozen countries have notified Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon they would be involved in the Libya operations to protect civilians under siege in the North African state. Only two Arab countries are on that list, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. But U.N. diplomats familiar with the coalition operations over Libya said there were a number of countries quietly cooperating with the coalition to enable the no-fly zone to happen. One of those countries, they said, was Sudan.
“Sudan has given permission to use its airspace,” a diplomat told Reuters this week. Another diplomat confirmed it, adding Sudan was not alone. It was not immediately clear what other countries were allowing the coalition to pass through their airspace. The news of Sudan’s participation comes as Western warplanes hit military targets deep inside Libya on Thursday but failed to prevent tanks re-entering the western town of Misrata and besieging its main hospital.
The airstrikes are part of a U.N.-authorized military operation to prevent forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi from attacking civilians as he attempts to crush a rebellion in eastern Libya that has split the country in two. Sudan’s U.N. ambassador, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, neither confirmed nor denied that Khartoum had granted permission to coalition air forces.
“I cannot give you concrete information on this,” he told Reuters, adding he did not believe “a final decision had been made” by his government. He did reiterate Sudan’s support for the Arab League call for a no-fly zone.
FEAR OF REPRISALS
Sudan is a member of the Arab League, which had pushed the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to halt aerial attacks by Gaddafi’s forces against rebel-held areas. Diplomats said it was understandable that Khartoum was not flaunting its cooperation with the coalition forces, which will help improve its battered reputation with Washington, London and Paris. Khartoum is currently lobbying the United States to remove it from the state sponsors of terrorism list.
Khartoum may also fear reprisals against Sudanese citizens in Libya by Gaddafi’s security forces. There are at least 500,000 Sudanese nationals in Libya, mostly foreign workers and many from Sudan’s western Darfur region, which borders Libya’s east. There is little love between Gaddafi and Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and other war crimes in Darfur.
Relations were strained between Libya and Sudan after Gaddafi agreed to offer refuge to Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement chief Khalil Ibrahim who had left peace talks in Qatar to return to fighting in Darfur. Last year, Libya promised to curb any Darfur rebel attacks.
Gaddafi hosted and helped insurgents early in the Darfur conflict, which began in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms accusing Khartoum of neglect. Sudan’s counterinsurgency campaign drove more than 2 million Darfuris from their homes, sparking one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises that the United Nations estimates has killed as many as 300,000 people.