A rebel group operating in the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan has condemned the Sudanese government for rejecting a proposal to establish a no-fly zone over the area.
The defense and security commander of the Justice and Equality Movement, Omar Adam, told VOA Wednesday the Sudanese government's refusal to ban flights over Darfur amounts to what he called a declaration of war.
"[The] Khartoum government is bombarding the villages using air raid[s], killing civilian[s]," Mr. Adam said. "So we ask [the] international community to put pressure on [the] genocidal regime of Khartoum to accept no-fly zone. Otherwise, we consider that refusing no-fly zone is declaration of the war.
The spokesman for Sudan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mohamed Ahmed Abdel Ghaffar, told VOA that air transport is vital for the government's defense troops in Darfur.
"It is not a matter of fighting only. It is a matter of how to provide these troops with food. Taking things by road is very risky," Mr. Abdel Ghaffar said.
Mr. Ghaffar said the government also needs aircraft to defend civilians and Sudanese troops against rebel attacks and to deliver food to civilians. He said Darfur is a vast area, many parts of which cannot be accessed by road.
Late Monday, mediators at the Darfur peace talks under way in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, urged two rebel groups operating in Darfur and the Sudanese government to sign a security agreement, including a ban on military flights over Darfur. The draft also calls on the government to disarm militias in the area, including the notorious Janjaweed, and to guarantee the safe return of refugees.
The security plan agreement put together by the African Union is designed to end nearly two years of violence in Darfur, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced more than one and a half million people.
The AU has peacekeeping troops and observers stationed in the troubled region.
The United Nations calls the Darfur conflict the world's worst humanitarian crisis.