Sudan rebels say govt still bombing Nuba region

Dec 15 (Reuters)

Sudanese rebels on Saturday accused the government of bombing the central Nuba mountains for the past three weeks in violation of a truce aimed at allowing humanitarian aid into the war-torn region.

The rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) added in a statement the government had also bombed civilian targets in other regions outside the truce zone during the same period.

"For the past three weeks Khartoum has been bombing and shelling locations under SPLM control in the Nuba Mountains, northern Bahr el Ghazal, western Upper Nile and eastern Equatoria," the SPLA said, referring to its political wing the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

Under pressure from the United States, the two sides had agreed to stop hostilities in the Nuba region in the four weeks leading up to December 9, to allow the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) to air-drop food to thousands of people displaced by the 18-year-old war.

Aid workers familiar with the region said they were investigating independent accounts of government shelling and isolated outbreaks of fighting in the Nuba region in recent weeks and of bombing by government forces in Bahr el Ghazal.

Officials at Sudan's embassy in Kenya could not immediately be contacted for comment.

Sudan's war broadly pits the Muslim government in the north and Christian or animist militias in the south fighting for autonomy. The conflict has cost about two million lives.

U.S. presidential envoy John Danforth said on Friday the SPLM and government had agreed to extend the ceasefire in the Nuba mountains to let in aid to thousands displaced by the war.

Samson Kwaje, a Nairobi-based spokesman for the SPLA and SPLM, confirmed a truce extension had been agreed. He said the SPLM had proposed the extension be for six months and there was "more or less" agreement with the government on this period.

But he said in brief remarks by telephone that the government's recent bombing in Nuba did not bode well for the durability of the extension of the truce and undermined the trust needed to negotiate an end to the war.

Danforth said the two sides had agreed to a relief and rehabilitation programme for all civilians in the Nuba Mountains and vowed to "avoid all bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets", but added that only the SPLM had agreed to setting up an international mechanism to investigate abuses.

Both sides agreed to observe "days of tranquillity" to allow polio inoculation campaigns and a U.S.-led investigation into how to prevent slavery, Danforth said.

The government rejected claims made by human rights activists that there was a slave trade in the country.

The SPLA statement said the government had consistently bombed hospitals, schools, churches, mosques, cattle pens, markets, villages and humanitarian relief during the war on the pretext that these were military targets.

The SPLA said that in fact the government knew that SPLA soldiers were stationed in the vicinity of government garrisons such as those at the towns of Juba, Wau, Malakal and Bor.

"Therefore there is no justification for the government of Sudan to continue bombing civilian targets far from these fronts," it said.