21 Feb 2006 by Opheera McDoom says Sudan is hindering the African Union's ability to monitor a ceasefire in Darfur by imposing a curfew and restricting airport access, the head of the mission said on Tuesday. Excerpt:
"Of course with the curfew, the airport shut, there are some constraints because if we cannot move about in that hour we cannot know what the government is doing in that hour," said Collins Ihekire, head of the AU military mission in Darfur.
Ihekire said the government had been flying helicopters offensively, a breach of the ceasefire signed in April 2004, which has since been widely ignored. Last week rebels shot down a government helicopter in South Darfur and captured a pilot alive and are still holding him.
"Those were helicopter gunships supporting their troops fighting with the SLA (Sudan Liberation Army) ... offensive flying," he added of the two helicopters the government used in the attack.
The government has imposed a curfew in el-Fasher from 2100 until 0630, U.N. officials said. The AU also says the airport in el-Fasher, the force headquarters, is closed from 1800.
Benn urged the local state governor to lift the curfew. "I can see no justification for imposing a curfew on peacekeepers," he said.
A state minister, Adam Haribush, told Benn that rebels were seeping into the town at night and it was impossible to differentiate the AU forces from rebel troops.
"The rebels are even within the AU base and are taking their cars to go around the town at night," he declared in Arabic, but which the government translator did not repeat in English.
The AU's Ihekire told Benn the Sudanese army was also using white helicopters and vehicles, the same colour used by the AU peace monitoring force and aid agencies working in the vast region, which compromised their neutrality.