CAIRO ø 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
Sudanese officials acknowledged that rebel groups sought to establish a
zone over Darfour to prevent a renewal of attacks on black villages. But
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
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
Thursday, the United Nations said it was withdrawing international staff
from southern Darfour amid restrictions imposed by Sudanese authorities.