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Sudanese Rebels Accuse Khartoum of Bombing Civilians - 2002-04-19

The rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Army has accused the Sudanese government of bombing civilians near oil-producing areas in southern Sudan.

SPLA spokesman, Samson Kwaje, has said the government of Sudan is bombing three villages in Western Upper Nile Province causing, quote, unwarranted destruction of human lives.

Mr. Kwaje said the attacks are aimed at driving the local population out of the area so that oil companies can move in and begin prospecting. "There has been some fighting. This has been provoked by the Government of Sudan. This is the middle [of the] dry season in that area and the government would like to do some clear up. They want to push SPLA forces as well as the local population away from the oil fields. So they have resorted to heavy bombardment both by the Antinov and also helicopter gunships. It started 10 April, 9 April to date," he said.

This alleged attack would be in violation of a recent pledge by both warring parties to stop bombing and shelling civilians. That agreement was brokered by former U.S. Senator John Danforth.

Mohamed Dirdeiry, a senior official at the Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi, said Mr. Kwajes allegations are false.

He has said the SPLA are portraying Western Upper Nile as unstable so as to link a cessation of hostilities which the government of Sudan has been calling for, with a cessation of oil-drilling which the rebels want.

The SPLA and human rights groups have accused the Sudanese government of forcing tens of thousands of villagers to flee the oil region and of using oil revenue to pursue the war.

The government of Sudan denied this.

Mr. Dirdeiry said it is in fact the SPLA who have been violating the agreement to protect civilians. "This is a figment of someone's imagination and it is an attempt by the SPLA to cover up what it did in Wau last week. It in fact last week started shelling the town of Wau and it killed many civilians as a result of that. And the government of Sudan had even recorded that in video tapes and right now some of those video tapes have been handed over to the Americans," Mr. Dirdiery said.

Mr. Kwaje said the SPLA have not shelled Wau. He said the nearest rebel forces are 27 miles away, in a town called Kuajina.

Mr. Kwaje charged, "This is a system that depends on lies."

Both the rebels and the government of Sudan say they look forward to the arrival of international monitors - part of the Danforth agreement - to verify such claims and counter-claims.