KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan’s army bombed rebel positions in Darfur and later surrounded and threatened to burn down a refugee camp and peacekeeping base nearby, the region’s joint U.N./African Union mission said on Thursday.
The incident took place as Washington’s envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, criticised Khartoum for obstructing peacekeepers and said the international force needed to take a more aggressive stance in the region.
Darfur has been hit by sporadic fighting almost eight years after mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government, accusing it of marginalising Darfur.
Violence, while down from the mass killings seen at the start of the conflict, has risen over the past year after rebels walked out of floundering peace talks and one insurgent force, which had signed an accord with Khartoum, went back to fighting.
Darfur’s UNAMID peacekeepers on Wednesday sent out a mission to investigate the site of recent fighting between the government and rebels close to the north Darfur town of Thabit, UNAMID said in a statement on Thursday.
“(The) verification mission ... was unable to complete its mission yesterday (Wednesday) after the resumption of aerial bombardment in the area,” said the statement.
UNAMID spokesman Kemal Saiki confirmed the bombing was by “the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) air force”.
Later on Wednesday, a group of 200 Sudanese government soldiers in 40 vehicles arrived at UNAMID’s camp in the nearby settlement of Shangil Tobay, UNAMID said.
“(The soldiers) surrounded the team site’s exit as well as the adjacent makeshift camp, where thousands of civilians recently displaced by the December 2010 clashes have settled,” read the statement.
The Sudanese army detained four displaced people at the camp, said UNAMID.
“The SAF commander at the scene ... then threatened to burn down the makeshift camp and UNAMID team site, if the peacekeepers continued to interfere. The UNAMID Blue Helmets stood their ground and the SAF troops eventually departed,” said the statement.
A U.N. official said the government soldiers had wanted to search the refugee camp for rebel fighters but the UNAMID force there stopped them. No one was immediately available for comment from Sudan’s army.
Susan Rice on Wednesday said UNAMID had to be more aggressive in protecting civilians and ensuring humanitarian aid workers had access to needy people in Darfur.
“We expect UNAMID ... to be very active and, when necessary, aggressive in fulfilling its mandate to protect civilians,” Rice told reporters, adding that Washington has been “frustrated and dismayed by repeated instances of UNAMID being denied access and its freedom of movement restricted.”
UNAMID chief Ibrahim Gambari told the U.N. Security Council via video link that he informed his military and police chiefs on January 4 that the force “would adopt a more robust posture and no longer create the impression of seeking permission for movement.”