Bomb left at former Sudan rebels' office

By Andrew Heavens

May 25, 2009 (Reuters)

* Bomb at SPLM office in Khartoum fails to go off properly
* SPLM calls it 'attempt to terrorise'
* Analysts say incident serious in run-up to elections

A bomb placed outside the Khartoum offices of Sudan's former southern rebels which failed to go off on Monday was an attempt to terrorise the group, a senior official said.

The Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) said two men left the radio-controlled explosive outside one of its Khartoum bases early in the morning, and only luck prevented it from going off as staff came into work.

SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum did not point fingers but the incident came at a highly sensitive time in Sudan in the build-up to national elections, promised under a troubled north-south peace deal.

"This is a clear attempt to terrorise the SPLM, to intimidate the SPLM," he told reporters in Khartoum. "We believe this was carried out be people who propagate hatred."

The predominantly Muslim north fought the Christian and Animist south for two decades before the 2005 peace deal created a north-south coalition government. It also promised national elections, due in February 2010, and a referendum on southern independence.

SPLM officials said it was still not clear whether the attempted bombing was a political act or a more personal attack on one of its officers. The office is regularly used by senior SPLM official Yasir Arman, who recently faced death threats from an Islamist group over comments he had made objecting to the application of Islamic sharia law to non-Muslims.

But analysts said even if it turned out to be a personal attack, any fatal explosion at an SPLM office could hit north-south relations, which are still bedevilled by widespread distrust and hostility.

"This is a very, very serious event," Fouad Hikmat of the International Crisis Group think tank told Reuters. "If it had detonated, it could have driven an even deeper wedge between the SPLM and the NCP (the north's dominant National Congress Party)."

"This sort of thing is highly unusual. I hope it is an isolated incident," Sudan expert Alex de Waal told Reuters. "If this sort of thing is happening right at the start of election campaigns, it doesn't augur well."

The NCP and SPLM both accuse each other of failing to implement the peace deal and the sides have quarrelled over the arrangements for the elections.

SPLM spokesman Yien Matthew Chol told Reuters neighours saw two men approach the office of the organisation's northern sector office in the Arkaweet district of Khartoum at around 3.30 a.m. (0030 GMT).

The men jumped over a fence and left an object close to one of the building's entrances, then ran off after barking dogs roused the guard, said Chol.

"The guard saw something flashing on the object and suddenly there was a loud explosion. Fortunately, it seems that only the detonator exploded, and no souls were lost ... This was a definite attempt to kill people and destroy the building," Chol told reporters. "

We were very, very lucky." Chol said more than 60 people usually worked in the building, and the SPLM had been planning to host a meeting with opposition political parties on Monday.


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