Global Policy Forum

Sudan Uses UN Colors to Disguise Military Flights, Report Says


By Warren Hoge

New York Times
April 17, 2007

An unpublished United Nations report says the government of Sudan is flying weapons and heavy military equipment into Darfur in violation of Security Council resolutions and painting Sudanese military planes white to disguise them as UN or African Union aircraft. In one case, which the report illustrates with close-up pictures, the letters "UN" have been stenciled onto the wing of a white-washed Sudanese armed forces plane that is parked on a military apron at a Darfur airport. Bombs guarded by uniformed soldiers are laid out in rows by its side. The report says that, contrary to government denials, the freshly white planes are being operated out of all three of Darfur's principal airports and used for aerial surveillance and bombardments of villages in addition to cargo transport. The report was compiled by a five-man panel of experts responsible for assisting the sanctions committee of the Security Council in monitoring compliance with resolutions on Darfur. It was made available by a diplomat from one of the 15 council nations that believes the findings ought to be made public.

While the report focuses much of its attention on the government, it says that rebel groups fighting the Khartoum government are also guilty of violating council resolutions, peace treaty agreements and humanitarian standards. It recommends a tightening of the arms embargo and other restrictions on all such activities, regardless of who is responsible. The report covers the period from September 2006 to March 12, 2007, and emerges a day after Sudan announced it was dropping its objections to large-scale UN assistance to the overwhelmed African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur. The Khartoum government said Monday that it would agree to a force of 3,000 military police officers along with six attack helicopters and other aviation and logistics support. Left uncertain was whether Sudan would ultimately drop its resistance to a proposed 21,000-member joint African Union-United Nations force to replace the 7,000-member African Union force that has said it cannot curb the continuing violence. The Sudanese government signaled its willingness to accept the interim force at a moment when at least two countries on the council, Britain and the United States, were threatening tough new sanctions because of Khartoum's stalling tactics. Those measures reportedly include ending all illegal arms flow, broadening measures against individuals identified as taking actions that undermine the peace process and imposing a no-flight zone that would put an end to the government's aerial campaign against its citizens.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, asked last week for council members to hold off consideration of further sanctions to give diplomacy a chance to proceed. But both Margaret Beckett, the British foreign secretary, and Alejandro Wolff, the acting American ambassador to the United Nations, held out the possibility Monday that tougher measures might have to be adopted at some point. Beckett, visiting the United Nations to lead a Security Council debate on climate change Tuesday, said that defying the UN was "not a pain-free course." Wolff expressed doubts about whether Sudan would carry out the Monday agreement and said, "I think I sense a general frustration among council members that every time there is an indication that something has been agreed to and then conditions are set up, and delays imposed, that frustration level rises and tolerance for that diminishes, and people are starting to consider the need for other measures." Gerard McHugh of Ireland, who has been the coordinator of the five-person experts panel since its creation in June 2005, said in an interview that he could not comment on the specific findings since they were still confidential, but he said they ought to be published now. "There is no doubt that this is a sensitive time on certain ongoing political and diplomatic initiatives; however, we're looking at certain Security Council mechanisms and measures that can and should be applied," he said. "It's actually the view of the panel that certain actions could be taken that would actually enhance the peace process rather than holding them back," he said.

To make the report a public document requires the agreement of all 15 Security Council members. Asked for comment Tuesday, Marcello Spatafora, the ambassador of Italy, which chairs the sanctions committee, said that he had already circulated a letter among the other 14 members asking whether there were any objections to making the document public. Barring objections, he would be free to make the report public in 48 hours, he said. In the past, China has objected to tough actions against Sudan, and in a closed meeting on Darfur on Monday, China was adamant that talk of sanctions would set back the peace process and lessen chances of Sudanese compliance with the Security Council. The panel report said that the Khartoum government had done little to disband armed groups, in particular the government-supported janjaweed militia, which the report said still carried out attacks on civilians across Darfur. It described a nighttime attack by men wearing Sudanese armed forces uniforms and traveling in 60 Land Cruisers mounted with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns on a village that they burned. A 105-year-old man was burned to death and three girls were abducted, raped and sent home naked, the report said. Officials also were not enforcing the travel ban and assets freeze imposed by the Security Council last year on four individuals, it said.

"The panel believes that any undue delay in the implementation of the resolution could embolden the designated individuals to carry on their acts and could also encourage others to commit violations without any fear of sanctions from the United Nations," the report said. The report said that the Sudanese government was shipping small arms, heavy weapons, artillery pieces, ammunition and other military equipment into Darfur on cargo planes, using airports at El Geneina, Nyala and El Fasher. It reported that one of the planes crash landed Feb. 24 during a trip from Khartoum to El Geneina, and Sudanese army officials guarded it on the ground for a week while soldiers off-loaded howitzers and up to 50 wooden boxes painted in olive drab that were suspected of containing arms and ammunition. Commenting on the painting of the planes, the report said, "The panel believes the use of white aircraft by the government of the Sudan constitutes a deliberate attempt to conceal the identity of these aircraft such that from a moderate distance they resemble United Nations or AMIS Mi-8 helicopters used in Darfur." The African Mission in Sudan is referred to by its initials. The panel said that the government was refusing to give advance word, as it was directed to do by the Security Council, of any introduction of weapons and related equipment into Darfur. When challenged to explain its action, the government said, "It does not feel obliged to request permission in advance from the Security Council," the report said. The report said that various rebel groups fighting the government were also illegally shipping weapons, regularly violating border controls between Sudan and Chad and extending lawlessness throughout the immediate region and attacking peacekeepers and aid workers. "Organized crime and acts of banditry have now become a source of livelihood for the many groups operating in Darfur and in other neighboring states," the report said. It said that, in addition to jeopardizing the work of the United Nations and African Union by disguising its aircraft, the government was permitting and sometimes aiding attacks and harassment of people from the two organizations. "The prevailing insecurity in Darfur and the raised level of harassment of humanitarian personnel have conspired to seriously curtail humanitarian operations through Darfur," the report said. About 2.5 million people have been displaced by the violence in Darfur, resulting in the loss of more than 200,000 lives.

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