July 5, 2006

Sudan summons Eritrean envoy on Darfur rebel attack

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan has summoned the Eritrean
ambassador to ask why Eritrea is playing host to a Darfur rebel
alliance that attacked a town, the Sudanese foreign minister
said on Wednesday.

The National Redemption Front (NRF) is an alliance of
Darfur rebels and political parties who reject a May 5 peace
deal. It was formed in the Eritrean capital Asmara last week
and attacked Hamrat al-Sheikh, 200 km (120 miles) from
Khartoum, on Monday.

"If they form a movement in Asmara and come and fight
against Sudan and we have asked Asmara to mediate in problems
in the east then that does not augur well for peace," Foreign
Minister Lam Akol told Reuters.

He said he had summoned the Eritrean ambassador on Tuesday
to send a message to Asmara asking for clarification as to why
they were "hosting" the rebel alliance.

The rebel leadership is based in the Eritrean capital
Asmara, with the knowledge of the government.

Eritrean-Sudanese relations have substantially warmed in
recent months and Asmara sent an ambassador to Khartoum in
June. Asmara is mediating in talks intended to end a simmering
decade-old conflict in Sudan's arid east.

Previously the two countries had no diplomatic relations
because an array of Sudanese opposition parties and military
movements had a presence on Eritrean territory, and Khartoum
accused Asmara of running training camps for rebels.

Most of the opposition groups have since either signed
agreements with Khartoum or are in peace negotiations.


But Eritrea's hosting of the new rebel alliance has raised
a question over its ability to mediate neutrally, Akol said.

"This is why we are seeking clarification so we can get an
answer to that question -- we told them we need an immediate
answer," he added. The Eritrean embassy in Khartoum declined to
immediately comment.

Monday's attack in North Kordofan, which neighbors Darfur,
forced a hasty response from Sudan's armed forces, who
dispatched bombers to repulse the offensive.

The NRF said an April 2004 humanitarian ceasefire was dead,
the first time a rebel group has openly denounced the truce,
although it has been largely ignored by all parties.

Sudanese presidential adviser Majzoub al-Khalifa on
Wednesday also accused its western neighbor Chad of supporting
the NRF, in comments carried in state-owned press.

Chad has played host to many of the rebel commanders
involved in Monday's attack. Sudan has also been home to
Chadian insurgents bent on overthrowing President Idriss Deby.

More than three years of rape, murder and pillage in Darfur
has killed tens of thousands and forced more than 2.5 million
from their homes.

Washington calls the violence genocide, a charge Khartoum
rejects, but the International Criminal Court is investigating
alleged war crimes in the vast remote region.

The African Union-mediated Darfur deal was signed by only
one of three rebel negotiating factions and has been rejected
by tens of thousands of Darfuris in miserable camps.

Critics say it gives little compensation to war victims,
few guarantees of implementation and the process of disarming
pro-government militias is opaque.