A UN envoy on Tuesday outlined a surge of violence in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region where he said rebels had shot down an army helicopter in mounting clashes.
Ibrahim Gambari, head of the UN mission in Darfur, said that over the past month government forces have staged aerial bombing raids, while rebels shot down the helicopter and staged a deadly ambush on an army convoy. Dozens have also been killed in clashes between rival tribes.
Gambari, who leaves his post at the end of the month, told the UN Security Council progress in efforts to end the conflict was “fragile.” The UN estimates more than 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur in the past decade.
The Sudanese government had said its helicopter crashed on July 16 because of a malfunction, killing seven military personnel.
Gambari said the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) helicopter was shot down in clashes after a government bombing raid one week earlier in the same North Darfur district of Tawila.
Twenty-four bombs were dropped in the air raid south of Tawila, UN peacekeepers in Darfur found. Gambari said government troops and armed rebels then clashed on July 16.
“Local sources corroborated reports that a SAF helicopter was shot down by movement ground forces during the fighting,” Gambari told the council. The government staged another air raid two days later.
He said there had been carjackings and robberies and on June 26 “government soldiers were allegedly killed and vehicles stolen” in an ambush on an army convoy.
About 60 people were killed in three days of clashes between two tribes arguing over grazing rights at Abu Jabra in East Darfur last week, Gambari said, adding that peacekeepers had been sent to ease tensions.
UN reinforcements have also been sent to the Hamadiya refugee camp in Central Darfur where followers of a Sudan Liberation Army faction led by Abdul Wahid are stopping government forces entering, Gambari added.
Non-Arab tribes in the western region rose up against the Khartoum government in 2003. Though the fighting has eased the United Nations has struggled, with the help of Qatar, to broker a peace deal.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Darfur.
The government has signed a peace accord with the Liberation and Justice Movement but many provisions of the deal have not yet been carried out, Gambari said.
The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and factions of the Sudan Liberation Army have stepped up their battle in Darfur with the Khartoum government, which is also battling rebels in nearby South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
“While a sustainable peace is in sight, there remains some ways to go,” Gambari said in his final report to the Security Council as head of the UN-Africa Union mission (UNAMID).
“What progress has been made remains fragile and is easily reversible should we lose focus,” he added.