Darfur clashes kill 3 as Bashir urges reconciliation

Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2017
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Darfur clashes kill 3 as Bashir urges reconciliation

SHATTAYA, SUDAN: Clashes between Sudanese forces and residents of a Darfur camp for the displaced killed three people Friday, the UN said, as President Omar Al-Bashir urged reconciliation in the war-torn region.
Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on genocide and war crimes charges related to the Darfur conflict, is touring the region ahead of a US decision next month on whether to permanently lift a decades-old trade embargo on Sudan.
On Friday, residents of Camp Kalma in South Darfur protesting against Bashir’s visit to the region clashed with government forces, with three residents killed and 26 wounded, the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said in a statement.
“I call upon everyone involved in this situation to restore calm as soon as possible,” mission chief Jeremiah Mamabolo said.
Thick smoke billowed from inside the camp as police in riot gear deployed outside and UN ambulances ferried the wounded to clinics, reported an AFP photographer taken to Darfur by the authorities to cover Bashir’s visit.
Camp Kalma houses more than 125,000 people displaced by the conflict, and as Friday’s clashes took place, Bashir addressed a gathering in a nearby village and vowed to back reconciliation efforts in the region.
“I want the world to hear that we are in Shattaya and we are with the people of Shattaya,” Bashir said in the village which saw pitched battles between government forces and rebels when the Darfur conflict erupted in 2003.
“I want to thank the people of Shattaya for their reconciliation, and we will continue supporting you until the last displaced person returns to his home and his farm.”
Global rights groups say that villages such as Shattaya were the scenes of war crimes and crimes against humanity when government forces launched their counter-insurgency operations against rebel groups.
The Hague-based ICC says Sudanese forces allegedly carried out “unlawful attacks, followed by systematic acts of pillage, on towns and villages, mainly inhabited by civilians belonging to the (African) Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes” in Darfur.
The Darfur conflict began when ethnic African minority rebels took up arms against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government, accusing it of economic and political marginalization.
The United Nations says the conflict has killed about 300,000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million, most of whom now live in large camps.
More than a decade of conflict has left Darfur awash with weapons in the hands of tribal militias, including those backed by government forces.
Bashir has been urging locals to give up their arms as he toured the region, saying that the conflict has now ended.
On October 12, US President Donald Trump is due to decide whether to permanently lift American sanctions against Sudan.
Although Washington imposed the sanctions in 1997 over Khartoum’s alleged support for Islamist militant groups, it argues that the conflict in Darfur has been a factor in keeping them in place.


First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone. (AP)
Updated 24 June 2018
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First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

  • Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there
  • Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year

BEIRUT: Russia bombed rebel-held parts of southern Syria late Saturday for the first time since brokering a cease-fire there nearly a year ago, a monitor group said, as allied regime troops prepare a ground assault.
Southern Syria is a strategic prize for local and global players involved in the country’s convoluted seven-year war.
After securing the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad appears keen to recapture the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by rebels.
He has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped flyers demanding rebels surrender, and escalated bombardment in recent days.
Late Saturday night, his Russian allies bombed rebel-held towns in Daraa for the first time since the summer of 2017, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Observatory said the warplanes used Saturday — based on type, location, munitions and flight patterns — had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria.
The Britain-based monitor said at least 25 Russian strikes hit the rebel zones but did not have any casualty figures.

Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there.
Since then, Moscow’s warplanes — active in Syria since 2015 — had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the south.
But violence has been ratcheting up this week as Syrian government forces look to retake the south militarily.
Forces loyal to Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone on Tuesday.
At least 19 civilians in rebel-held zones have died since then, according to the Observatory.
Several civilians have also been killed in opposition fire on government zones, with state news agency SANA reporting Saturday that two civilians were killed in Daraa city in rebel shelling.
Some 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly-equipped displacement camps further west.
The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in rebel parts of the south in danger.
On Saturday, regime forces took two villages in Daraa province, their first ground gains after days of bombardment, the Observatory said.

“The Russian strikes started around 10:30pm local time (1930 GMT) and stopped after midnight,” said Ibrahim Mohammad, a media activist in the battered rebel town of Busr Al-Harir in Daraa.
He said he and other residents had taken to their basements and bomb shelters as soon as they heard the planes, describing a steady thud of bombardment for nearly two hours.
In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria’s south.
“All sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that, for all sides and the local population, would be a worse outcome,” wrote the International Crisis Group think tank last week.
“The US, Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western cease-fire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement,” the report added.
Earlier this month, Assad said contacts were ongoing between Russia, the United States and Israel over the southern front.
“We are giving the political talks a chance, but if they fail, there will be no choice but liberation by force,” he said.
The regime has retaken large parts of Syria from the opposition since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015.