Officials close to Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir deny that Iran is providing military training and assistance to Sudanese forces in Darfur. The comments come in response to the London-based Africa Confidential news publication, which accuses Khartoum of using Iranian-made military equipment in the western Darfur region. Iran joins China and Russia as countries believed to be defying a U.N. arms embargo, which prohibits the transfer of weaponry to Darfur without the permission of the Security Council. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
Africa Confidential says that an unmanned drone shot down by a Darfur rebel group on August 28 was an Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle, which was operating in the Darfur region in violation of the U.N. arms embargo.
Africa Confidential Editor Patrick Smith tells VOA that rebels of the Sudan Liberation Movement Unity faction recovered parts of the UAV and helped western military experts identify it. He says the drone, which is capable of carrying a 45-kilogram bomb, was probably controlled by Iranian technicians in Sudan.
"Sudanese rebel forces got hold of parts of it and they have spoken to several international governments about it because of the implications of Iran breaking sanctions. We are absolutely certain about this. It is an open secret that the Iranians have been training their [Sudan's] military operatives. That is beyond dispute," he said.
The government in Khartoum acknowledged last month that it had lost a drone in Darfur, but officials said the unmanned plane was made in Sudan and that it had been spraying pesticides on crops when it crashed.
Khartoum's Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mutruf Sadiq says he has no knowledge of Iranian-made UAVs operating in Darfur. But he denied that Tehran is providing military training and assistance to Sudanese forces.
"No, no, no, no, no. We do not have any Iranian military experts here in Sudan. It is absolute nonsense," he said.
But an official from South Sudan in Khartoum's unity government, Shrino Hitang, says he believes Iran has joined Russia on the list of the most significant military partners for the Arab-dominated government in Sudan.
Khartoum and Tehran signed agreements in January 2007, and again in March, pledging to boost military cooperation. "Iran and Russia are countries that are equipping Khartoum with military hardware," he said.
Last year, human-rights group Amnesty International reported that Russia and China, which had approved the passage of the U.N. resolution in 2005, had broken the arms embargo by supplying Sudan with attack helicopters, bombers and other vehicles and weapons used against civilians in Darfur.
On Saturday and Sunday, rebel groups in North and West Darfur said government forces used some of those helicopters and bombers to launch attacks on rebel positions. The reports have not been confirmed, but rebels say the attacks inflicted an unknown number of casualties and caused hundreds of civilians to flee.
At least 300,000 people have died and more than two million displaced since the conflict erupted in 2003 in the oil-rich region. The International Criminal Court recently indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on alleged crimes and genocide perpetrated by government forces and state-backed Arab militias in Darfur.