Sudan declares end to air raids on rebels in south

By Alfred Taban
May 24, 2001 (Reuters)

Sudan said on Thursday it would unilaterally cease air strikes against southern rebels in the African country's 18-year-old civil war.

"The Sudanese government has decreed a halt to air attacks in the south of the country and the Nuba mountains region starting from tomorrow, Friday 25 May," Sudanese state radio announced, quoting a government statement.

It gave no reason for the move and did not say how long it would last.

Sudan in April rejected a Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) ceasefire call which said the Islamist government should halt oil exports and prospecting until a peace deal is reached.

The SPLA has in the past threatened to attack oil facilities in the south, claiming that oil revenues help the government finance the civil war which has cost the lives of an estimated two million people and displaced around four million.

The southern-based SPLA has been fighting since 1983 to win more autonomy for the largely animist and Christian south Sudan from the Muslim, Arabic-speaking north.

The SPLA said last week it had overrun two government garrisons in the south and raided the important town of Wau.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell began an Africa trip on Wednesday which will will include talks in Uganda and Kenya expected to cover Sudan's civil war. He said he would soon be appointing a coordinator for diplomatic efforts to end the war.

The government and SPLA are to enter peace talks in Kenya on June 20, under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), a grouping of east African states.

An SPLA statement sent to Reuters in Cairo on Thursday said the SPLA had resisted a government attack on its positions in south Blue Nile state on Tuesday, killing 300 government troops.

There was no immediate government word on fighting.

The Danish pilot of an International Committee of the Red Cross aid plane was killed earlier this month after his plane came under fire in south Sudan.

Royal Dutch/Shell said last week it would try to prevent supplies of its aviation fuel in Sudan from being used in military planes launching bombing raids in the south.

Rights groups say international oil firms active in Sudan are abetting government violations against local populations, including forced evictions. Sudan denies the charge.