Sudan denies agreeing to end 'hostile flights' over Darfour

Monday, November 15, 2004

CAIRO Western diplomats said the Sudanese agreement on Tuesday to end what was termed "hostile" military flights over the rebel-torn province of Darfour marked the most important concession by the Khartoum regime in international efforts to end the fighting.

Now Sudan has denied agreeing to establish a no-fly zone in Darfour.

Sudanese officials acknowledged that rebel groups sought to establish a no-fly zone over Darfour to prevent a renewal of attacks on black villages. But they said the Khartoum regime managed to eliminate the clause from the final agreement signed in Nigeria on Nov. 9.

"What was mentioned was cessation by all parties of military operations on land and by air, and of any act that may jeopardize the ceasefire," Agriculture Minister Majzoub Al Khalifa Ahmed said on Thursday. "Our brothers in the [rebel] movements demanded cessation of military flights and civil flights for military purposes and we told them that this was unacceptable to a sovereign state. "

Ahmed served as Sudan's chief negotiator in the African Union-brokered security talks to enforce the April 2004 ceasefire in Darfour. He said rebel groups had made the no-fly zone a key proposal in the talks earlier this week.

Briefing reporters in Khartoum, Ahmed said Sudan pledged not to launch an air or land offensive in Darfour. But he said Khartoum's pledge was linked to the rebels honoring the ceasefire.

The Sudanese Air Force has played a major role in the war against rebel groups in Darfour. The air force has employed An-24 air transports, Mi-24 attack helicopters, and, according to rebels, the new MiG-29 fighter-jets in attacks on suspected rebel strongholds, including villages in Darfour.

Meanwhile, Western diplomatic sources reported continued fighting in Darfour. On Thursday, the United Nations said it was withdrawing international staff from southern Darfour amid restrictions imposed by Sudanese authorities.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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