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Fear and anger follow Sudanese rebel strike

29 april 2013, 18:51
©REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
©REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
Fear and anger on Sunday followed a Sudanese rebel strike on a major town residents said had been left unguarded and was hit during coordinated attacks in the insurgents' most audacious act in years, AFP reports.

In Umm Rawaba, a previously peaceful community of thousands which bore the brunt of Saturday's attack, residents said about 300 youths stoned a convoy carrying North Kordofan state governor Murghani Hussein Zaki-Adeen, and federal Electricity Minister Osama Abdullah Mohammed.

"Where were you yesterday?" witnesses said protesters shouted after the governor visited the homes of people who died in the unrest.

Youths then set fire to local government buildings, said witnesses.

Residents complained that the town, the second largest in North Kordofan, had been left undefended when insurgents briefly occupied it on Saturday.

The death toll was unclear but included some policemen, according to residents and officials.

Rebels said eight of their number died during the operation, four in battle and four in accidents.

North Kordofan has been largely free from the insurgencies in the Darfur region to its west, and South Kordofan to its south.

A rebel coalition, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), said it attacked Umm Rawaba and several other areas as part of its strategy to reach Khartoum and overthrow the 24-year regime of President Omar al-Bashir.

Umm Rawaba is about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of the state capital El Obeid, which is home to an air force base and on Sunday was tense with armoured vehicles deployed and soldiers in the streets, a resident said.

The SRF said it seized government garrisons at Abu Kershola and Um Ktera before "chasing" the army to Umm Rawaba, Allah Kareem and to the edge of North Kordofan's El Rahad town.

Abu Kershola and Um Ktera were still in rebel hands on Sunday, while two additional South Kordofan garrisons nearby had also been captured by SRF, said Arnu Ngutulu Lodi, spokesman for the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), which is based in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

Residents of Abu Kershola, a village about 65 kilometres south of El Rahad, said they were living rough after fleeing.

"We are staying under trees and we are using camels to bring water from far away. Some families have nothing to eat," said one of the displaced, Ahmed Ibrahim, who called for government aid.

"There are just a few trees to shelter the young children and old people," said another man, Hamid Ahmed Mohammed, who fled the village early on Saturday.

"There is no food and we brought our water in by donkey," he said.

Calm had returned to Umm Rawaba town on Sunday but there was no electricity or water following the rebel attacks, townspeople said.

"People are still fearful," one resident said.

Hafez Mohammed Hamoud, North Kordofan's Minister of Finance, said Allah Kareem and the area outside El Rahad were also "under control completely."

Sudan's army spokesman, quoted by SUNA on Saturday, said the rebels had been "defeated" and had scattered in small groups.

The SRF consists of SPLM-N and Darfur's main rebel groups the Sudan Liberation Army and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

In 2008 JEM pushed all the way to Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman where government forces said they were beaten.

The rebel attack in North Kordofan comes as the government, beset by internal political struggles, seeks a broad political dialogue with its opponents.

Last week Khartoum and the SPLM-N held their first direct talks in almost two years, but both sides said negotiations stalled.

From the rebel perspective, "now would probably be a good time to capitalise on some of the divisions and... a softening stance in Khartoum," said Jonah Leff, of the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based independent research project.

But if they tried to reach Khartoum, "I think they'd get beat back pretty quickly," he said.

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