Rebels accuse Sudan in Darfur bombing


KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) – Government planes breached a cease-fire by bombing villages in northern Darfur, rebel commanders said Sunday as the U.S. called on Sudan to let insurgent factions meet to discuss holding joint peace talks with the regime.

The reports on the bombings, which could not be independently confirmed, came days after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adhere to a truce brokered by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and others during a visit earlier this month.

Sudan’s military spokesman denied the government conducted any bombings, which would violate the new cease-fire as well as a May peace accord between the government and one rebel group, and several U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“We never bombard civilians anywhere,” the spokesman said on condition of anonymity in accordance with army policy.

A field commander for the rebels said the Sudanese air force bombed several areas near Hashaba and Ein Sirro from Friday to Sunday. Abdallah Banda, whose group is one of several factions that rejected the May accord, said three villages were destroyed but he could not confirm reports of more than a dozen casualties.

“It’s too early to count the dead, but there are probably many,” Banda said by satellite telephone from North Darfur.

The African Union peacekeeping mission, reported earlier in the week, said it was aware of new incidents in northern Darfur. The AU’s cease-fire commission “has received such a report and will send a team there,” spokesman Noureddine Mezni said.

More than 200,000 people have died in nearly four years of fighting in Darfur, and the conflict is spilling over into the Central African Republic and Chad, where hundreds of thousands of Darfur’s 2.5 million homeless have fled.

On Sunday, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum said the United States supported efforts by the AU and the United Nations to bring rebels together for talks.

“The United States calls on the government of Sudan to respond positively to the request from the African Union for assurances that such a meeting … can take place under secure conditions,” an Embassy statement said.

The U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios, met with Darfur rebel leaders in Chad on Friday to urge them to work together to end fighting in the region.

Banda said the Justice and Equality Movement was planning a meeting with rival rebel factions later this month, but commanders now had to join their units because of the airstrikes.

Jar al-Naby of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army said his faction had planned to attend the meeting but was putting that off because of the attacks. Another faction of the same group signed the May peace accord but al-Naby’s group split off and continued to fight.

The commander of the AU peacekeeping mission initiated a truce in late December to allow the rebel conference to be held. However, government planes bombed the meeting place just after the African general left.

AU officials say there are now more than a dozen competing rebel factions, up from two when negotiations for last May’s peace agreement began.

Associated Press writer Mohamed Osman contributed to this report.

AP-ES-01-21-07 1827EST