Rebels from Sudan’s Darfur region threatened to attack any election officials that came into their territory, underlining the challenges facing the country’s first multi-party poll in 24 years.
The insurgent Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) gave its warning as teams of officials started fanning out across Darfur and other parts of the oil-producing country to register voters for the delayed national elections, now due in April 2010.
“If any of them come into our territory we will target them as soldiers,” senior SLA official Ibrahim al-Helwu told Reuters, speaking by phone from France.
“These officials are security men in the clothes of civilians,” said Helwu, part of the faction loyal to SLA founder Abdel Wahed Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur, who is based in Paris.
Helwu said his group saw the poll as a propaganda exercise, covering for continuing atrocities in the western region, where more than six years of conflict has forced millions to flee.
Rebels from the SLA’s Unity faction last year said they detained government workers collecting data for a census, designed to draw up constituencies for the elections.
Sudan’s elections commission said it had not received any information about the new threats.
“We are receiving very good reports. (The registration) is going on very well without any obstacles,” commission deputy chair Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah told Reuters.
Sudan’s elections were originally scheduled for July 2009 under the terms of a peace deal that ended two decades of civil war in Sudan. Organisers have struggled to meet key deadlines and observers say they will face enormous challenges organising the poll in Darfur and other remote areas.
The SLA’s Abdel Wahed faction, which enjoys substantial support in many of Darfur’s displacement camps, has refused to take part in troubled peace discussions, demanding a return to security before talks.
There have been signs that Nur is coming under increasing pressure to negotiate with Sudan’s government through joint UN/African Union mediators.
A number of his supporters surrounded a peacekeeping helicopter after it landed in the central East Jabel Marra area and held the crew for three hours last week, Darfur’s joint UN/AU UNAMID peacekeeping force said.
A UN source, who asked not to be named, said the SLA fighters mistakenly believed the helicopter had come to take one of their commanders to join ongoing peace discussions between Sudan’s government and another rebel group.
SLA Abdel Wahed has a stronghold in the central Jabel Marra area and says it holds sway over a much wider territory. That claim is contested by Sudan’s government which said it pushed SLA fighters out of a number of key settlements in September.
Darfur’s conflict flared in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Sudan’s government, demanding better representation and accusing it of neglecting the region.