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March 2008 - Posts

SUDAN-CHAD: Hopes for peace fade with fresh round of accusations

 


Photo: Derk Segaar/IRIN
Members of the Sudan Liberation Movement Army (SLM/A) in Gereida, south Darfur, Sudan 100 km from the Chad border
NDJAMENA, 27 March 2008 (IRIN) - Just two weeks after Chad and Sudan signed a landmark peace accord their two governments have accused each other of supporting fresh attacks into their respective territories by proxy armed groups. Both governments appear to be bristling for a fight.

“[Chad has] carried out major operations and logistic arrangements and facilitated the entry of rebels from inside Chadian territory to carry out sabotage acts and destabilise security in [Sudan’s] Darfur region,” Sudan's Permanent Envoy to the UN, Ambassador Abd-al-Mahmud Abd-al-Halimthe told his government’s news agency.

The agency, in an article published on 24 March, said the Sudanese Ambassador had informed the UN Security Council of Chad’s violations. According to another pro-Sudanese website, the Sudanese Media Centre, Chad is planning “a large-scale attack” which would include “using government forces.”

Chad’s foreign minister Ahmad Allam-Mi formally denied all such accusations at a meeting he recently convened with diplomats based in the capital N’djamena, a government source who did not want to be named told IRIN.

The source said Allam-Mi presented the diplomats with “irrefutable proof of the intentions of Sudan to attack”.

One western diplomat in N’djamena told IRIN that he did not believe that Chad’s army was preparing to invade Sudan. “It has been weakened [by recent rebel attacks] and to invade Sudan now would not just be stupid, it would be suicidal,” he said on the condition of anonymity.

He said he was not so sure of Sudan’s intentions vis-a-vis Chad.

Chadian President Idriss Deby and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir signed a peace agreement on 13 March in the presence of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and select African leaders and Arab and western diplomats attending the Organisation of the Islamic Conference summit in Dakar, Senegal http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=77294

The stated aim of the accord is "to put an end, once and for all, to disputes between the two countries and re-establish peace in the sub-region."

N’djamena is quiet at the moment, he said, yet it has remained tense since February when rebels entered the city for two days. “Everyone you talk with in the international community says they wouldn’t be surprised if [Sudanese supported] rebels try another attack on N’djamena before the beginning of the rainy season [at the end of June]”

A Sudanese opposition leader, Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, is reportedly set to travel to Chad in April to meet President Deby and mobilise support for a regional security conference for countries in the area.

Estimates of the number of people killed as a direct and indirect consequence of fighting in Darfur and eastern Chad run as high as 400,000 with some 2.7 million people displaced.

SUDAN: Worsening banditry threatens humanitarian effort in Darfur


Photo: IRIN
Conflict in Darfur has displaced hundreds of thousands of people who now live in camps and rely on relief aid for survival
NAIROBI, 27 March 2008 (IRIN) - Relief agencies in Sudan have expressed concerns over an alarming increase in the number of attacks by bandits against people carrying out humanitarian work in the strife-torn region of Darfur, and warned that violence is threatening to disrupt aid delivery to thousands of needy people.

"These attacks are reaching unprecedented levels and they are getting worse," Edward Carwardine, chief of media and external relations in the Sudan office of the (UNICEF), told IRIN.

He cited an incident on 20 March when four State Water Corporation staff working with UNICEF were kidnapped in North Darfur and their drilling equipment was taken away, saying, as a result, 180,000 people ran the risk of not receiving clean water this year.

Emilia Casella, head of public information at the  (WFP-Sudan), said there had been "very alarming rates of banditry" directed at WFP convoys and it was now taking longer for WFP contracted trucks to deliver food to the agency's warehouses in Darfur.

"All parties must realise that humanitarian personnel and their cargo are there to carry out a neutral humanitarian task," said Casella.

The attacks, she said, have escalated at a time when WFP needed to pre-position as much food in Darfur as possible ahead of the onset of the May-October rainy season when roads become impassable.

According to the office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, three humanitarian workers and one contract truck driver have been killed and nearly 90 people working on behalf of the humanitarian operation abducted, mostly during hijacking incidents, since the beginning of 2008. There have been 23 break-ins and armed assaults at humanitarian and UN compounds.

Twenty-nine drivers of WFP-contracted trucks remain unaccounted for after they were abducted at gunpoint.

"Such attacks are unacceptable and indefensible," the office said in a statement issued on 26 March. "Those who commit attacks against humanitarian workers are harming innocent people – many of them children – who depend on humanitarian assistance for their food, health care, water, sanitation and other vital services."

President Al-Bashir Meets with Syrian President

Damascus, Mar. 28 (SUNA)- President of the Republic, Field Marshal Omer Al-Bashir, met in his residence in Damascus Friday the Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, and discussed progress of the bilateral relations and the issues that would be discussed by the 20th Arab Summit which will begin Saturday in the Syrian capital. Sudan Ambassador to Syria gave Friday evening a banquet in honour of President Al-Bashir and the accompanying delegation. MO/MO

Son of Mohamed Osman Al-Mirghani Return Home

Khartoum, Mar. 28 (SUNA)- Jaafar Al-Saddiq Al-Mirghani, the son of the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Mohamed Osman Al-Mirghani, Friday arrived in Khartoum heading a delegation of the party. They were received at Khartoum Airport by leading figures of DUP and Khatimiya sect, besides Deputy Political Secretary of the National Congress, Ahmed Haroun, the Secretary General of the Information Department at the National Congress, Abdul-Basit Abdul-Majid, and member of the National Congress Political Secretariat, Hatim Al-Wasila. Addressing a big gathering of Khatimiya Sect and DUP supporters at the yard of the Mosque of Sayid Ali Al-Mirghani in Khartoum North, Jaafar Al-Saddiq Al-Mirghani, stressed that his father Mohamed Osman Al-Mirghani will continue his affords for reaching national consensus and accord through his initiative in this regard. He said that Mohamed Osman Al-Mirghani will return home to contribute to the peace, development and unity efforts in Sudan. MO/MO

President Al-Bashir Arrives in Damascus to Participate in 20th Arab Summit

Damascus. 28 (SUNA)- President of the Republic, Field Marshal Omer Al-Bashir, Friday afternoon arrived in Damascus, at the head of a high-level delegation, to participate in the 20th Arab Summit. He was received at Damascus Airport by the Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Al-Mualem, and the Arab League's Secretary General, Amro Musa. Earlier, President Al-Bashir hoped that the Arab Summit in Damascus will be the start for the unity of the Arab rank concerning their basic and common issues. He described the relations between Sudan and Syria as distinguished and witnessing progress in all the political, trade and economic fields. It is to be recalled that Darfur issue is included in the agenda of the current Arab Summit in Syria. MO/MO

Sudan rejects Darfur rape charges
Children in Darfur camp
Some two million people have fled their homes in Darfur
The Sudanese army has criticised a recent UN report accusing it of raping women and girls, and looting towns during attacks in western Darfur.

The UN said raids by aircraft and ground forces on three towns in February left at least 115 people dead.

A Sudanese military spokesman said the army was doing its job of protecting civilians by forcing rebels out.

The United Nations says more than 200,000 people have died in Darfur since rebels took up arms in 2003.

Two million people have been displaced and now live in camps.

Brig Gen Osman Mohamed al-Aghbash blamed rebels in Darfur for attacks on civilians in the area and the looting of their property.

"The army, discharging its duty... regarding the prevalence of security and protection of civilian lives, would go after rebels and bandit groups all over the country," he is quoted as saying by Sudan's official news agency Suna.

Janjaweed fighter on horseback (File pic, 2004)

 

More than 30,000 people fled the attacks on the towns of Sirba, Sileia and Abu Suruj, said the report, issued on Thursday by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (Unamid).

The report said the large scale of destruction suggested the damage was done deliberately as part of a military strategy.

It quotes witness reports of government-backed militiamen on camels and horseback setting houses on fire, shooting at residents and looting.

It also says witnesses saw members of the Sudanese armed forces joining in the attacks, raping girls and taking part in looting.

The report describes the "major military campaign" as an attempt by the government to regain control of the northern corridor of West Darfur, and to drive out the Justice and Equality Movement rebel group.

Sudan accused over Darfur strikes
Woman walks past UN peacekeepers in Darfur refugee camp
The UN says more than 200,000 have died in the conflict
A UN report accuses the Sudanese army of carrying out rapes and looting during attacks in Darfur.

It says raids by aircraft and ground forces on three towns left at least 115 people dead in February.

The large scale of destruction suggests the damage was done deliberately as part of a military strategy, it adds.

The UN says more than 200,000 people have died in Darfur since rebels took up arms in 2003. Two million have been displaced and now live in camps.

The report was issued jointly by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (Unamid).

It quotes witness reports of government-backed militiamen on camels and horseback setting houses on fire, shooting at residents and looting.

Janjaweed fighter on horseback (File pic, 2004)

 

It also says witnesses saw members of the Sudanese armed forces joining in the attacks, raping girls and taking part in looting.

More than 30,000 people fled the attacks on the towns of Sirba, Sileia and Abu Suruj, the report says.

It describes the "major military campaign" as an attempt by the government to regain control of the northern corridor of West Darfur, and to drive out the Justice and Equality Movement rebel group.

"The scale of destruction of civilian property, including objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population, suggests that the damage was a deliberate and integral part of a military strategy," said the report.

The UN report condemns the attacks as "violations of international humanitarian and human rights law".

It urges the Sudanese government to cease hostilities in the area, and to refrain from "launching deliberate and indiscriminate aerial attacks against civilians".

It also calls on all parties in the Darfur conflict to respect their obligations and refrain from using civilians as "human shields".

Glimmer of hope for Sudan ex-slave

Two of Arek Anyiel Deng's children are now going to school in Madhol, a poor, dusty village in South Sudan.

Arek Anyiel Deng's children, Khalid (l) and Mariem (r)
Anyiel wants all her children to go to school like Khalid (l) and Mariem (r)

But not much else has improved in the life of this former slave and her six children a year after their plight touched BBC readers and listeners.

"I would like to send them all to school but then I would have no money left," she says.

Khalid and Mariem have now completed their first year at school and hope to start their second in April.

Going to school means they can integrate into the local Dinka society and may provide them with some kind of future in the area around Malualbai.

Last year, Ms Anyiel explained how her children were too ashamed to be the only pupils in the local primary school not to wear uniforms - simple blue smocks - prompting BBC readers and listeners to send her money.

Dilemma

She went back home in 2006, after spending 18 years as a slave in an Arab cattle camp in north Sudan, where she was beaten and raped.

Arek Anyiel Deng
We are on our own
Arek Anyiel Deng

Last year, she told the BBC News website that while she was glad to be free and back home in South Sudan, in material terms her life was little different from when she was a slave.

"It's like I was still in the camp, it's the same situation as in the north."

Her plight illustrates the dilemma faced by those trying to help the estimated 11,000 people seized as slaves during Sudan's 21-year war between north and south.

Partly as a result of many similar stories, donors withdrew funding from the programme to rescue former slaves - condemning some 8,000 people to remain in captivity.

Following the publication of Ms Anyiel's story, to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British empire, the return programme has now resumed.

Baby

Her second daughter Bathul, 16, does not go to school, saying she has to stay at home and help her mother.

And there is another mouth to feed.

Arek Anyiel Deng and her family
Anyiel now has another mouth to feed
Her eldest daughter, Kamala, has given birth to a little girl and neither the father, nor the community are giving her any support.

As a woman-headed family in South Sudan's patriarchal society, they are very vulnerable.

"Our situation can be seen on the faces of the children," she said.

Partly thanks to the generosity of BBC readers and listeners, she was able to start selling tea in the local market to provide some income but she no longer has the money to carry on with her business.

She planted sorghum during last year's rainy season but the harvest was poor due to the heavy rains and floods which hit the whole region.

She has not been able to find any relatives, as her parents both died while she was a slave in the north.

"We are on our own," she says.

'Apart'

She has also been forced to sell her only goat - which should provide enough food for a month.

But she has little idea what she will do then.

map

As well as buying the school uniforms and helping her grand-daughter, she has used some of the money she received to finish building her own hut, known locally as a tukul.

She was previously living in an abandoned hut she found, which had a leaking roof.

Aid agency Save the Children runs a children's group in Madhol village, which helps children such as Ms Anyiel's who are returning from the north to learn the local Dinka language and culture.

But this is not enough for them to become full members of the local community, especially for her two eldest daughters, who do not go to school.

"My children still keep apart from the others," she says.

"My whole family remains without hope - except for those who have gone to school."

Freedom

The government of South Sudan has provided some $1m, which will pay for the return of about 1,200 former slaves from the north.

Dinka woman with traditional facial scars
Dinka facial markings help identify children even if they have forgotten their names

The first group is expected to arrive in a few weeks.

Save the Children says it will help the returnees find their homes and family back home.

This can be an extremely difficult process in a society ravaged by years of conflict.

Some of those abducted as children will have forgotten how to speak Dinka - and can only be traced by the tribal scars etched onto their faces shortly after birth.

Like Ms Anyiel, they may be given some help, such as food, for a few months but after that they will be left on their own, especially while the UN children's agency, Unicef, still considers whether or not to restore funding to the programme.

Many former slaves may find that freedom does not mean the end of their troubles.

All smiles as Muslims unite for peace
A woman stands by a bill board of Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade welcoming delegates to the OIC summit

By Will Ross

Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad and the imminent release of a Dutch documentary critical of Islam are just part of the evidence that Islamophobia is on the rise, according to the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) at its summit this week in Senegal's capital, Dakar.

The OIC says a campaign of defamation and denigration is one of the greatest challenges facing the Muslim world today.

US envoy Sada Cumber
First thing this morning I was wearing my Texan boots
US envoy Sada Cumber
"Ignorance about Islam and also calculated animosity with deep historic roots on the part of a minority in the West as well as our inability to disseminate the true values of Islam are the reasons for this increasing wave of Islamophobia," Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Muslim grouping, told the delegates before calling for robust political engagement with the West to tackle it.

There were more than 20 heads of state attending, but obviously no invitation letter was sent to George Bush.

The US president is viewed by many here with scorn, largely because US foreign policies are judged in much of the Muslim world as being anti-Islamic.

President Bush says the US is misunderstood and so he has appointed the Pakistan-born Sada Cumber, a Muslim businessman from Texas, as the first US special envoy to the Islamic organisation.

His mission?

"My role is to share the common core values of America. The pure ethics of America does not allow any of us to have anything but deep respect for all religions, including Islam.

"So the perception [that the US government is anti-Islam] is probably a misconception," the Pakistan-born envoy told the BBC, adding that he had been widely welcomed at the summit.

Stars and stripes

Building bridges will be a tough job for Mr Cumber who will represent US interests on controversial subjects like Iraq.

Sudan's Omar al-Bashir (l) shakes hands with his Chadian counterpart Idriss Deby
There are fears Sudan and Chad's smiles were just for the cameras

But the man, who believes he was chosen because in the business world he has a track record of quick success, says he brings a positive message from Mr Bush.

"He's personally told me that he is prepared to engage with every one of the Muslim leaders to make sure we have freedom, stability and prosperity in all regions and he's committed."

When I point out that he has perhaps deliberately chosen not to pin a stars-and-stripes badge to his lapel or to wear stars-and-stripes socks to the world's largest summit of Muslim leaders, Mr Cumba has a surprising response.

"First thing this morning I was wearing my Texan boots on which is a huge logo: 'Texas Wide Open For Business'".

"I see you are not wearing them now," I point out.

Oh Mozambique - is that an island?
Saudi delegate
"I was on my feet so much I had to take them off and put on some more comfortable shoes."

But does he not think Texan boots in an Islamic Conference could cause a bit of a stir?

"Absolutely not. People get a kick out of it. People look at them and say, 'Wow these boots are good.'

"Americans are always welcome, you know that."

Hamid Sirajjudin from Sudan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Mr Cumber's presence is welcome.

"If it can open avenues for dialogue and for consultation then it is a positive move," he suggests, noting that it is up to the OIC to decide who should be invited.

The Iranian ambassador to the OIC, Mostafa Bonjuredi, is not so welcoming.

He says the US is neither a permanent member nor an observer and so should stay away from the summit altogether.

Bridges apart

Inside the conference centre it was no surprise that Israel was lambasted with calls from the Muslim body for the perpetrators of what it called "Israel's heinous crimes in the Middle East" to be put on trial before an international court.

Summit staff
Some 10,000 jobs in Senegal were created by the summit

The 57 member countries may be united by their faith but they at times seem a world apart with few bridges linking them.

Take this seven-second interaction between a delegate from Saudi Arabia and a Mozambican journalist: "Mozambique - is that an island? Oh, it's not. Anyway it was very nice to meet you."

Economically the differences are stark.

Divide up the annual income of oil-rich Kuwait and you get $24,000 per person.

But you would have to perform miracles and stay alive for more than 100 years to accumulate that kind of money in Sierra Leone, where the national annual income is just $220 per head.

The Islamic conference says it wants to change that and a fund has been set up with a target of raising $10bn to fight poverty, notably in Africa.

So far $2.6bn has been pledged with a billion coming from Saudi Arabia alone.

Senegal has used generous grants from the Islamic fund to give the capital, Dakar, a facelift including major road-building projects. But there have been concerns over accountability for the grants.

Spending binge

The budget for the projects is around $250m and in charge has been the president's son, Karim Wade, who was also a chief organiser of this conference.

Karim Wade waving
President Wade's son organised the OIC summit

The man, who some believe is being manoeuvred into succeeding his father, dismisses the suggestion that the Senegalese people living in abject poverty are not seeing any reward from the spending binge.

"We have created more than 10,000 jobs to build and operate the infrastructure and investment flow will definitely create job opportunities for the people and will help us to achieve a higher growth rate for our economy," he told me.

Peace building is also a stated OIC goal and host Abdoulaye Wade eventually dragged the leaders of Sudan and Chad together to sign a peace deal which, if implemented, could help alleviate the suffering in Sudan's Darfur region.

They may share the same religion but when President Omar al-Bashir and his Chadian counterpart Idriss Deby have put pen to paper in the past, the conflicts across the common border have only escalated.

They even prayed together at Mecca during a previous deal and so few analysts expect this pact to be any different.

For a man keen to push himself forward as a continental heavyweight, President Wade got what he wanted: a grand summit and a peace deal.

But analysts suggests the octogenarian leader does not wield the kind of influence he thinks he has and we wait to see if the Dakar deal has any impact or if it will just go down as another worthless signing ceremony.

There was enough red carpet here in Dakar to cover a small island.

As it is rolled up, a huge 1,200-cabin cruise ship, hired to house the delegates, will head from Dakar's port to the Mediterranean.

Stowing away could be a temptation for the vast number of West Africans trying to reach Europe.

Chad rebels dismiss peace accord

Chadian rebels - file photo
Chadian rebels attacked the country's capital last month
Chadian rebels have dismissed a peace agreement between Chad and Sudan, saying they will continue their campaign to overthrow Chad's president.

The presidents of Chad and Sudan signed an accord on Thursday aimed at ending hostilities between the two countries.

A senior commander of the joint UN-Africa Union force in Darfur said the deal will not work unless rebels from both countries are included.

Meanwhile, the UN said it is returning many more refugees to South Sudan.

A spokesman for the Chadian rebel National Alliance said the non-aggression pact signed by Chad's President Idriss Deby and Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir did not concern them.

They want talks with Chad's president, said Ali Gadaye.

"If Deby doesn't want dialogue, then we're going to chase him out by force."

Attempted coup

In their accord, the presidents of Chad and Sudan agreed to stop armed groups from using their respective territories to attack their neighbour.

In Sudan's West Darfur, bordering eastern Chad, the commander of the joint UN-AU peacekeeping force said the agreement will not have any impact unless the rebels are brought into negotiations.

Map of Chad, Darfur and CAR
As soon as rebels start fighting, Brig Gen Balla Kaita told the BBC, "nobody will know if it's between rebels and their government or is it going to be between the two countries".

The peace accord was mediated by Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade and was signed on the sidelines of an Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Senegal's capital Dakar.

Just hours before it was signed, Chad accused Sudan of sending heavily armed columns of Chadian rebels across its border. There has been no independent confirmation of any crossing.

It is the sixth deal in five years and the war of words between the two sides is highly unlikely to end with the signing of the agreement, says the BBC's Will Ross in Dakar.

Chadian troops fought off an attempted coup last month in a fierce two-day battle in the capital N'Djamena.

Southern repatriations

At least 200,000 people have died and more than two million displaced in five years of conflict in Darfur.

Many refugees have crossed into Chad where a European Union force has recently deployed to protect them.

In South Sudan, the United Nations refugee agency said there is a growing desire among refugees from South Sudan to return home in time for a census next month.

The UN said 3,000 refugees a week had been repatriated to South Sudan from Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia since January - up from 600 a week.

A national census in April is being held to prepare for Sudan's first democratic election in 23 years, due in 2009.

A referendum on whether South Sudan should secede is due two years later.

Sudan and Chad strike peace deal

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade (L) and his Chadian counterpart Idriss Deby in Dakar on 12 March 2008
The non-aggression pact was brokered by Senegal's president (l)
The presidents of Chad and Sudan have signed an accord in Senegal aimed at halting five years of hostilities between the two countries.

Chad's Idriss Deby and Sudan's Omar al-Bashir agreed to implement past failed peace pacts at a Dakar summit.

The neighbours have often accused each other of supporting rebel movements trying to overthrow their governments.

The BBC's Will Ross in Dakar says none of the rebels are included in the deal, so it may not be enforceable.

Our correspondent says it is the sixth deal in five years and the war of words between the two sides is highly unlikely to end with signing of the agreement.

Hours before they met, Chad accused Sudan of sending heavily armed columns of Chadian rebels across its border. There has been no independent confirmation of any crossing.

Thursday's signing ceremony was witnessed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Accusations

The accord was struck on the fringes of an Organisation of the Islamic Conference summit under Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade's mediation.

Map of Chad, Darfur and CAR

The deal - known as the Dakar agreement - commits the two nations to implementing past accords that have failed.

It calls for the establishment of a monitoring group of foreign ministers from a handful of African countries that would meet monthly to ensure there have been no violations.

The deal said the leaders had agreed to "inhibit all activities of armed groups and prevent the use of our respective territories for the destabilisation of one or the other of our states", reported the Associated Press news agency.

Our correspondent says the two leaders have been under intense international pressure to sign and neither wanted to be seen as the spoiler.

But he says what everyone will be watching is the situation on both sides of the border to see if the pact makes any difference.

As for international enforcement of the deal, our reporter says the presence of the recently deployed European peacekeeping force on the Chadian side of the border has a greater chance of stopping a rebel coup in Chad.

This is partly because there is only one main road from the border to the capital, N'Djamena.

However, his says the common border is vast and in Sudan international peacekeepers on the ground are few and far between.

The whole peacekeeping effort would need to be ramped up in Darfur to deal with any kind of enforcement, he says.

Coup attempt

Optimists feel the deal must be given a chance given the disastrous humanitarian situation on both sides of the border and every opportunity to end fighting should be explored, our reporter says.

French soldiers in Ndjamena, 2 February 2008
French troops evacuated expatriates during Chad's recent coup attempt

However, rebels from both Chad and Sudan have dismissed the agreement as a piece of paper.

Sudan earlier dismissed Chad's claims that it had sent Chadian rebels over the border on Wednesday as "complete nonsense".

Chadian rebels say they already operate inside the country and EU peacekeepers there said they had detected no incursion.

Earlier, an announcement on Chadian radio said "several columns of heavily armed rebels" had crossed the border from Sudan near the town of Ade.

But the Chadian rebel National Alliance denied any cross-border movements from its fighters.

A rebel attempt to overthrow President Deby's government was thwarted last month.

In recent weeks Chad has taken steps to prevent attacks from rebels, including digging a deep trench around N'Djamena and cutting down trees which could provide cover for attackers.

The government fought off last month's attempted coup in a fierce two-day battle.

The attack took place just before the deployment of the European force to safeguard refugees from Darfur in eastern Chad and the Central African Republic.

Sudan 'still bombing in Darfur'
Children in Darfur camp
More than 2.5 million people have fled their homes in Darfur
A BBC correspondent in Chad has seen helicopters drop bombs over the Sudanese border in Darfur.

Stephanie Hancock says she saw a helicopter flying across the sky, then heard explosions and saw clouds of smoke coming from the ground.

Nations sending peacekeepers to Darfur are due to discuss how to speed up the force's deployment later at the UN.

Earlier, Russia offered to provide some of the helicopters which the force needs to move around the vast area.

So far only 9,000 of the planned 26,000 troops are on the ground.

Scared

Our correspondent in Baga Katala on the eastern Chadian border with Sudan was with a group of refugees who had fled previous bombing in Darfur.

map
They said Sudan's military wanted to stop them returning home.

Thousands of people have fled a recent government offensive in West Darfur.

Our correspondent said the helicopter was a dark colour - the refugees said the Sudanese military helicopters are black.

She said the refugees were clearly upset to see the bombing and scared in case some bombs fell over the border.

The UN is moving the refugees further into Chad away from the border.

Sudan's government says it has destroyed several rebel camps during its offensive in the Jebel Moun area.

At least 200,000 people have died in Sudan's five-year conflict, with more than two million fleeing their homes.

China talks tough over Darfur
Fantan jets at Nyala, Darfur. Photo: Amnesty International
China supplies weapons to Sudan
China has issued an unusually energetic call to its ally, Sudan, to do more to stop fighting in Darfur.

The "humanitarian disaster" in the region was a grave concern to China's government, said its envoy Liu Guijin.

Mr Liu called for Khartoum to do more to speed up the arrival of peacekeepers in the region but he also criticised Darfur's rebel groups.

China is a key ally of the Sudanese government - buying its oil, selling it weapons and using its weight at the UN.

Mr Liu has just returned from a trip to Sudan which included Darfur.

He said he had been profoundly affected by things he had seen in the province.

He said he was also moved by the stories he had heard from Darfuris forced to flee their homes after five years of conflict.

Olympic pressure

China has been stung by Western accusations that it is colluding with the Sudanese government, and is eager to ensure the issue does not overshadow this year's Olympic Games in Beijing.

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Last month, US film director Steven Spielberg pulled out as artistic adviser to the Olympics, saying that China had failed to use its influence on Khartoum over Darfur.

The BBC's Amber Henshaw in Khartoum says Beijing is keen to defend its economic interests but also wants to be seen to be taking a more aggressive stance against Khartoum in the run up to the Olympics.

She says when Mr Liu spoke to journalists in Khartoum last week he was much less outspoken.

Then he pointed out that China was a friend to Sudan and that the Chinese government was already doing a lot to work with the West over Darfur.

The United Nations says more than 200,000 have died in Darfur during the four-year conflict and at least two million have been displaced and live in camps.

Sudan 'finds' EU soldier's body
French troops in Chad
The French-dominated force is 3,700-strong
The body of a French soldier who has been missing since 3 March may have been found by Sudanese authorities.

A spokesman for the EU Force in Chad (Eufor) said Sudan believed a body discovered near the Chadian border may be that of the missing soldier.

The French soldier went missing when his Eufor vehicle strayed into Sudan. Eufor has since apologised to Sudan over the border incursion.

It is the first serious incident experienced since the force deployed.

Eufor spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Poulain said arrangements for formal identification were being made.

Following the soldier's disappearance, France asked for Sudan's help to find him.

Eufor is mandated to protect refugees from the Sudanese region of Darfur and the Central African Republic, as well as internally displaced people.

The French-dominated 3,700-strong force began deploying in eastern Chad and Central African Republic last month.

Slave rescue bid resumes in Sudan


Former slave Abuk Atak Deng
Abuk Atak Deng is waiting to see her twin brother again
At least seven South Sudanese have been freed from their Arab abductors after the resumption of an operation to rescue them, the BBC has learnt.

The seven have been taken to a transit camp in the South Darfur capital, Nyala, the head of the operation says.

Ahmed Mufti said the latest operation would seek to free 1,200 people, with the first group going home next month.

Some 8,000 people are thought to remain in slavery after being captured during Sudan's north-south conflict.

The conflict ended in 2005 but the programme to return the slaves had ended in a row over money.

Mr Mufti told the BBC that the semi-autonomous South Sudan government had given his Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC) $1m to resume the programme.

Arek Anyiel Deng

It's like I was still in the camp, it's the same situation as in the north

Arek Anyiel Deng

 

He said the operation had restarted earlier this week, with his officers going to the states of South Darfur and South Kordofan.

He also said the tribal communities had no problem with releasing the remaining "abductees", as he calls them.

"They have no problem - the only problem was the money," he said.

Mr Mufti insists that no money is given to the abductors - the money he needs is to pay for the transport costs for the workers and then to feed, clothe and provide shelter for those freed.

He said CEAWC had details of where the remaining "abductees" were being kept but he did not have enough funding to rescue those.

Monitored

In some parts of South Sudan, relatives of those abducted can be found easily.

Abuk Atak Deng told the BBC last year in the village of Malualbai that she and her two brothers had been abducted by Arab raiders.

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"Garang is my twin and I do not feel complete without him," she said.

She managed to escape in November 2006, along with the child she had had with her abductor.

The UN children's agency, Unicef, is currently discussing the question with Sudan's federal government and may resume funding the programme.

During the 1984-2005 war, Arab militiamen would ride into South Sudan on horse and camels, seize women and children and take them back to their cattle camps in the north.

They were generally forcibly converted to Islam.

The women and girls would be taken as "wives", while the boys were used to tend cattle.

Between 3,000 and 6,000 slaves have already been returned but donors withdrew the funding following reports that people had been taken back to the south and abandoned and that others had been forced to return against their will.

Arek Anyiel Deng told the BBC that she was glad to be free from her "master".

But she now finds herself back in the south with five children to care for and no-one to help her.

"It's like I was still in the camp, it's the same situation as in the north," she said.

Mr Mufti said the whole operation was now being monitored by aid workers from international agencies.

Sudan's government has always rejected claims that people are living in slavery but admits that thousands were abducted during the war.

It says this is an ancient tradition of hostage-taking by rival ethnic groups.

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