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|October 7, 2010|
UN envoys get hostile welcome in Darfur as new clashes erupt
By Tim Witcher (AFP) –
EL FASHER, Sudan — Hundreds of supporters of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir gave a hostile reception to UN Security Council ambassadors in Darfur on Thursday as government forces launched new attacks on rebel opponents.
Bashir supporters briefly stopped the UN envoys from leaving El-Fasher airport in north Darfur as they arrived to raise concerns about renewed clashes in the region where the United Nations estimates about 300,000 people have died since 2003.
Demonstrators chanted slogans against the International Criminal Court's genocide charges against the Sudanese leader, with women shouting: "With our blood, with our soul we sacrifice for Bashir." UN peacekeepers on jeeps with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and heavy machine guns guided the envoys' convoy across the desert roads to the UN base.
They arrived hours after government forces said they launched an attack on Abdelwahid Nur's faction of the Sudan Liberation Army in the eastern Jebel Marra district about 100 miles (160 kilometres) away.
A government spokesman said seven rebels were killed and government troops had retaken control of a key road. The rebels confirmed the fighting but denied they had lost control of the sector, which has been the scene of heavy fighting over the past 10 days.
Ambassadors and top representatives from the 15 nations on the UN Security Council, including the five permanent powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- are on a four-day mission to Sudan to check the troubled preparations for a self-determination referendum on January 9 and to visit Darfur.
Britain's ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, said the aim of the Darfur leg was "very clear," and the envoys would "express our concern at the continued violence in Darfur." "We are concerned about sexual violence, we are concerned about child soldiers, we are concerned about the import of weapons into the region."
He said the ambassadors would urge all sides to halt the violence and would support the floundering Darfur peace process. US ambassador Susan Rice has also raised her concerns about a "disturbing uptick" in the Darfur conflict.
The ambassadors will on Friday visit one of the giant Darfur refugee camps before going to Khartoum for the final leg of their mission. They will not however meet Bashir because of the international charges against him. They will only meet Sudan's foreign minister before leaving on Saturday.
Their reception in Darfur was in stark contrast to the cheering crowds who awaited them in the south Sudan capital of Juba on Wednesday.
The ambassadors say their visit aims to reinforce the international message to the Sudan government and the authorities in the south that the January 9 referenda in south Sudan and the smaller region of Abyei must be peacefully conducted on time. The two regions are widely expected to vote to split up Africa's largest nation, and some Western countries fear there could be a new conflict in Sudan.
The referenda are part of a 2005 peace accord that ended a two-decade civil war which left an estimated two million dead.
I would bet good money that the so called Al Bashir supporters are threatened/coerced into a demonstration. Refugees have told me that when Al Bashir came to Darfur people were made to gather and cheer for him. The penalty for not participating was imprisonment or death.