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Sudan to Probe Attack on UN Aid Center - 2002-02-24

The Sudanese government says it will investigate an air attack on a U-N food aid relief center last week that left 17-people dead. Officials have said the action was spurred by increasing rebel activity in the war-torn area.

A statement issued by Sudan's Foreign Ministry says a high-level committee will investigate the attack by military helicopter, which took place in Beih, about 1,000 kilometers south of Khartoum. The statement also describes the episode as a regrettable mistake that the government will work to avoid in the future.

A helicopter reportedly hovered above the World Food Program (WFP) compound at Beih and fired rockets.

Gutbi El Mahdi, the Sudan government's intelligence chief, says the military has a directive governing the use of the air force. "They should only use it when the rebels are very close to the government positions," he said.

Two days after the attack the government seized an airport in Nihal Dio, 200 kilometers from the site where the WFP food aid relief center was hit. The government reportedly took large quantities of weapons and ammunition supposedly being used by rebels to launch attacks in the oil-rich area.

WFP chief Catherine Bertini said this was the second attack of its kind in less then two weeks. Another WFP spokesperson said the government was fully aware of plans to distribute food.

Mr. El Mahdi says that clearance for this type of aid operation requires permission from numerous government agencies. He noted that similar previous incidents have resulted when permission was mistakenly granted for aid operations to go ahead in areas so close to the front line of fighting.

The United States has suspended peace mediation until the Sudanese government fully explains the attack.