Sudanese rebel commander scoffs at reports of his death
April 30, 2013 (Sudan Tribune)
Abdel Aziz Adam El-Hilu, the General Chief of Staff of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) denied on Tuesday reports that he has been killed by the Sudanese military following the rebel alliance's attack on Um Rawaba town in Northern Kordofan state on April 27.
"I am alive. Nothing has happened to me", he told Sudan Tribune in an exclusive interview via phone on Tuesday from an undisclosed location.
"The Sudan Armed Forces know where we are and we know where they are", he said before adding that wishing on the part of Khartoum that he was dead would not mean he would "vanish into the thin air".
This is El-Hilu's first interview with a news outlet since the SRF's weekend attack amid intense speculations about his fate and whereabouts.
While other rebel officials dismissed reports of his demise, they declined to offer specifics on his location or address rumors that he might have been seriously injured.
On Monday the Sudanese minister of information Ahmed Bilal Osman claimed that el-Hilu was likely killed by a rocket that targeted a convoy of six vehicles he was in during SRF's recent offensive in North and South Kordofan.
El-Hilu said that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Sudan was trying to stir anxiety among Sudanese people and discourage them from supporting the SRF rebel alliance.
The alliance - which consists of el-Hilu's Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) and the three main Darfur rebel groups - was increasing its strategic coordination, the rebel leader said.
"We sit down and discuss our plans together before going for implementation. We have now finished with coordination phases. We will now draw strategies relating to operations because we have now seen that we are all fighting for regime change", he said.
The rebel groups that constitute the alliance - SPLM-N, Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and the Sudan Liberation Army factions of both Minni Minawi and Abdul Wahid Mohamed Nur - are increasingly referring to themselves as the SRF rather than their original groups, a trend that has permeated the government's own statements in recent weeks.
El-Hilu said that SRF had drawn up "clear strategic plans" on "joint operations" to deal with the Sudanese military, saying it was just a matter of time before the regime in Khartoum falls.
The attack on Um Rawaba, just 100km from Northern Kordofan's state capital, El Obeid, is marked change from the previous dynamics of the conflict. Until Saturday's assault - with the notable exception of the JEM's surpise attack on Sudan's capital in 2008 - the fighting has been limited to the Darfur region, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
Saturday's surprise offensive occurred only 500km south of the capital Khartoum with rebels reportedly utilising hundreds of vehicles and killing nine policemen, including a lieutenant, before withdrawing later in the afternoon.
The assault drew strong condemnation from regional organisations including the African Union, Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Officials in Khartoum assert that the assault was carried out to strengthen the rebels' negotiating position in the wake of the recent round of talks between Khartoum and the SPLM-N in Addis Ababa which has failed to yield any breakthrough.
Sudan has called on the international community to press the rebels into an immediate ceasefire.
The rebel alliance had not been carrying out joint operations until now, El Hilu, said was "because the first phase after coming together was to gather trust and get to know each and check capabilities of the other."
El-Hilu expressed confidence that the alliance could bring change to Sudan, explaining that their objective was to increase their span of operation by intensifying mobilisation in areas of Sudan not already under their control.
"Our objective now is to expand our frontlines into Khartoum. We are capable of doing that because we will be carrying a strategic operation to overstretch the forces of our enemy," he said.
"We catch the tail in one area and move to the other side by launching coordinated and well organised operation. It is just a matter of time before Khartoum falls", al-Hilu added.
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