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Cablegate: Jem Rebels Attack Omdurman, Almost Reach Khartoum

VZCZCXRO0771
OO RUEHGI RUEHMA RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #0716/01 1321550
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 111550Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0778
INFO RUCNFUR/DARFUR COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 0351

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 KHARTOUM 000716

DEPT FOR D, AF A/S FRAZER, S/E WILLIAMSON AND AF/SPG, AF/C
ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU, NSC FOR BPITTMAN AND CHUDSON
NSC FOR PITTMAN AND HUDSON

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV MOPS KPKO AU UN SU CD
SUBJECT: JEM REBELS ATTACK OMDURMAN, ALMOST REACH KHARTOUM

REF: KHARTOUM 710

KHARTOUM 00000716 001.2 OF 004


-------
Summary
-------

1. (SBU) JEM rebels attacked the sprawling Khartoum suburb of
Omdurman May 10 and advanced within sight of one of the bridges
leading to Khartoum. Although Sudanese Government forces prevented
the rebels from crossing the Nile into the capital, JEM claims that
it will launch another attack on the capital within 24 hours--a
prediction echoed by even some in the Sudanese Government. Despite
assurances by the GOS to the Embassy that there would be no
ethnically targeted arrests, there were several reports of ethnic
Zaghawa detentions in Khartoum and Omdurman. Appearing on national
television May 11, Sudanese President Omar Bashir accused Chad of
supporting the rebels and announced that he had severed diplomatic
relations with Chad. Three prominent leaders of the Chadian
opposition abruptly departed Khartoum on May 10, and the UN reports
that Chadian rebels are mobilizing in West Darfur. End summary.

--------------------
JEM Attacks Omdurman
--------------------

2. (SBU) Following the May 9 warning from the GOS that an attack on
Omdurman could be imminent (reftel), the GOS added additional
security throughout Khartoum and Omdurman May 10 and the military
was placed on high alert. However, with no sign of rebels early in
the day May 10, observers in Khartoum began to speculate that the
GOS had invented the story to divert attention from its bombings of
locations in North Darfur last week.

3. (SBU) Around 1600 hours local time on May 10 reports of fighting
in Omdurman began to trickle in. The GOS instituted a curfew at
1700 hours local and declared a state of alert on national
television. Observers in Omdurman heard heavy machine-gun fire as
well as the sound of incoming mortars, and by early evening, fires
in Omdurman (mostly from burning vehicles) could be seen from the
rooftops of buildings across the river in Khartoum. Several
contacts in Omdurman reported that the rebels had advanced from the
Libyan Market in Omdurman to within a close distance of the
Salvation Bridge, one of several bridges linking Omdurman to
Khartoum across the Nile. SAF used both jet fighters and helicopter
gunships against rebel targets in Omdurman. However, by mid-evening
the GOS declared victory on national television and began running
images of the charred remains of rebels and their vehicles in the
streets of Omdurman, as well as images of captured JEM rebels
admitting in broken Arabic that they had received support and
training from Chad, and indeed that at least some of them were
Chadians.

4. (SBU) Government contacts reported that the situation was under
control by 2100 hours local time on May 10 but expressed concern
about a second even larger wave of attackers. NCP insider Yahia
Bebiker reported that approximately 100 vehicles had been used in
the first wave but said it was not clear how many vehicles might
follow in a second attack. MFA U/S Mutriff Siddiq told the Embassy
late May 10 that "the first wave has been defeated." However, he
requested U.S. assistance in calling on JEM and Chad to call off the
second wave of the attack. Siddiq said that the rebels had
retreated to residential locations and that the SAF was conducting a
"house to house search" for them.

5. (SBU) The morning of May 11, Umma party contacts reported that
there was shooting throughout the night in Omdurman until 0630 hours
local time, when a group of JEM rebel vehicles departed Omdurman
heading north. Bebiker confirmed this information and said the
rebels had fled via the northern highway in a westerly direction but
again expressed concern that the rebels might be regrouping or could
be joined by a second wave of vehicles. Umma contacts also reported
that there was heavy fighting in front of Umma Party headquarters,
across the street from where Radio Omdurman is located--and that the
rebels had almost succeeded in taking control of Radio Omdurman
(which is a complex housing Sudanese State TV and Radio). Other
Embassy contacts throughout Omdurman confirmed that fighting
persisted until 0630 local time on May 11.

-----------------------
JEM Pledges Second Wave
-----------------------

6. (SBU) For their part, JEM contacts brazenly reported May 10 and
11 that they intended to "take Khartoum" and would launch a second
offensive on North Khartoum, Omdurman, and Khartoum on May 11 or 12.
They claimed that they had not fled the city in defeat but rather
had left in order to regroup. JEM said between five and seven of

KHARTOUM 00000716 002.2 OF 004


its fighters were killed and 10 were wounded during the Omdurman
attack. An independent account placed the number of rebels killed
at 17. JEM indicated that their forces withdrew from Omdurman at
approximately 0630 hours local time to join a second JEM column
traveling from Kordofan in preparation for a renewed assault. JEM
asserts that the movement is regrouping near Abu Jabra, Kordofan, a
report confirmed by the representative of a rival rebel movement.
They denied that any Chadian military elements are or were in their
ranks and reiterated their long-standing position that they are not
dependent on Chadian support and have built their arsenal through
supply raids on the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) during "over 125
battles in five years."

7. (SBU) SPLM leaders and senior officials in the Government of
National Unity told CDA Fernandez on March 11 that SAF casualties
had been much larger than the SAF will be willing to admit. Another
raised the possibility of considerable 'friendly fire" casualties
caused by SAF air strikes and artillery. One former SPLM commander,
now a state governor, unabashedly exclaimed his admiration for such
a bold rebel stroke, remarking "we never got so close in over 20
years of fighting."

8. (SBU) JEM's stated aim is to overthrow the Sudanese Government
and to establish an interim administration. They claimed to be in
contact with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and are
prepared to offer the interim presidency to a Southerner in order to
preserve the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). JEM maintains
that its actions in the last 48 hours do not conflict with their
desire for a peaceful solution to the problems in Darfur or in the
country at large. Instead, their goal is to expose the weakness of
the Sudanese regime and to force the NCP to negotiate with the other
political elements in Sudan. In conversations with JEM, Emboffs
continue to underscore USG condemnation of JEM actions and note that
recent JEM operations are as reprehensible as the Sudanese
Government's attempts to pursue a military solution to the conflict
in Darfur.

-----------------------------
Potential for Ethnic Violence
-----------------------------

9. (SBU) A significant danger in the aftermath of the fighting is
the possibility of ethnically targeted arrests. While Senior
Assistant to the President and Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM)
Chairman (and ethnic Zaghawa) Minni Minawi publicly condemned the
JEM attack and called on all of Darfur's rebel movements to address
their grievances through political negotiations, he expressed
concern, both during and in the aftermath of the attack, that
Zaghawa will be arrested and or killed in retribution. Early in the
offensive, some in the regime had advised him to leave the city.
Contacts at the Chadian Embassy called Poloff May 10 to report that
the SAF had surrounded their Embassy and asked that the U.S. Embassy
provide refuge for them (they were at their residences at the time)
because they feared for the lives. Embassy has not facilities for
refuge for its own staff let alone Chadians.

10. (SBU) Polchief called Bebiker on May 10 and again on May 11 to
pass the message that the U.S. would strongly condemn any ethnically
targeted arrests and to confirm that the Chadians, SLM/Minawi
partisans, and Zaghawa inhabitants of Khartoum were targets for
arrest. Bebiker assured Polchief that there would be no ethnically
targeted arrests and said he would pass the message to others in the
regime. He commented that the Chadians were afraid because they
knew the Sudanese Ambassador in Chad was almost killed following the
Chadian rebels assault on Ndjamena in February. On May 11, CDA
Fernandez pressed MFA Undersecretary Siddiq strongly to refrain from
any ethnically targeted arrests. Siddiq pledged that the Sudanese
Government would focus only on people involved in the attack. He
claimed that the Government is aware of who colluded with JEM to
launch the offensive, citing phone calls from the Chadian Embassy to
certain military and police officers.

11. (SBU) Despite Siddiq and Bebiker's assurances, the morning of
May 11 GOS security forces arrested SLM General Counsel Abdel Aziz
Sam, an ethnic Zaghawa, at 0330 hours local time. Sam was released
at 1230 hours local time but told Poloff that he, along with six
other Zaghawas, had been badly beaten with rifles and ropes during
his interrogation. At 1430 local time on May 11, a Zaghawa student
guest house in Omdurman was raided by the security services and 60
Zaghawa were arrested, according to Minawi's chief of staff. SLM
sources and other credible contacts throughout Khartoum report
widespread arrests in Omdurman, but no conclusive figures are
available. There are also reports of large numbers of civilians,
who were wounded in the cross-fire, checking into local hospitals.
An independent account placed the number of civilians killed at 14.

------------------------

KHARTOUM 00000716 003.2 OF 004


JEM Ally Remains Neutral
------------------------

12. (SBU) Moreover, while all other political parties condemned the
JEM attack on the capital, Hasan al-Turabi's Popular Congress Party
(PCP)--which is said to have strong ties to JEM--has yet to make a
statement. Siddiq Al Turabi, the PCP leader's son, was afraid to
speak with Emboffs on May 10, with the assumption that the security
services are watching the party closely. PCP Secretary General
Bashir Adam Rahma told Poloff by phone on May 11 that the party
chairman for Khartoum State, Adam Tahir Hamdoul, was arrested at
0330 hours local time on May 11. His location is unknown. While
they have received no guarantees as to their safety or freedom in
Khartoum, Rahma and al-Turabi plan to return to the capital late on
May 11 or early May 12. The senior PCP leadership will convene upon
al-Turabi's return in order to develop an official position on the
recent events, according to Rahma.

--------------------------------------
Other Darfur Rebels Observe Cautiously
--------------------------------------

13. JEM/Collective Leadership, led by the former secretary general
of JEM who defected in the fall of 2007, also does not plan to
condemn the attack on Omdurman. JEM/CL leader Bahar Idriss Abu
Gharda, who is now in N'djamena, Chad, told Poloff that while he
disagrees with JEM's methods, he cannot dispute the value of
undermining the regime in Khartoum. He denies that Chad ordered the
attack, saying that President Deby does not want to risk massive
Sudanese retaliation.

14. (SBU) Representatives of SLM/Abdulwahid, a Fur-dominated
movement, and SLM/Unity, a Zaghawa-dominated movement, confirm that
JEM raised the possibility of a coordinated attack on Khartoum with
them in the last week. Both movements claim to refused any
involvement, and there is no indication that either SLM/Abdulwahid
or SLA/Unity participated or are planning to participate in a second
offensive.

-----------------
Chadian Dimension
-----------------

15. (SBU) Absent from Khartoum during the fighting May 10, Sudanese
President Omar al Bashir returned from Saudi Arabia (where he had
been in Mecca for a week for the Umra pilgrimage) on May 11 and
proclaimed on national television that the JEM rebels had been
defeated and that Sudan had cut diplomatic ties with Chad due to the
support received by the government of Chad to the JEM rebels.

16. (SBU) Chadian rebel National Alliance leaders Mahamat Nouri,
Ahmed Soubiane, Abdelwahid Aboud, and Abaker Tolli departed Khartoum
"for the field" on May 11, according to their representatives. As
of May 7 and 8, all four leaders planned to remain in Khartoum until
at least May 15. UN contacts confirm that Chadian rebel elements
have been mobilizing in West Darfur since May 10.

-----------------------------
UN Pushing for Airport Access
-----------------------------

17. (SBU) While all senior UN civilian leadership, both for the
UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the UN Mission in Sudan
(UNMIS), were out of the country on May 10, UNAMID Joint Special
Representative Rudolphe Adada is attempting to return to Khartoum
from Paris on May 11. The UNAMID Chief of Staff told Fieldpoloff
that the peacekeeping operation's priority is to gain a commitment
from the Sudanese Government to re-open the airports in North,
South, and West Darfur to UNAMID aircraft, per the Status of Forces
Agreement (SOFA). The Embassy remains ready to reinforce UNAMID's
request with the GOS as appropriate.

-------
Comment
-------

18. (SBU) While JEM did not achieve its stated objective of taking
Khartoum, its bold raid proved that it can seriously disrupt the
normal stability of the national capital. Despite Sudan's turbulent
contemporary history, no rebel group has come this close to the
capital since the time of the Mahdi. The possible existence of
another "column" of JEM vehicles has yet to be resolved, with some
contacts reporting that JEM is headed back to Darfur and others
waiting to see if there will be another assault. Regardless, the
credibility of the Sudanese Government, which was perceived prior to
the May 10 attack as having a formidable security and military
apparatus, has been severely damaged. There is also a distinct

KHARTOUM 00000716 004.2 OF 004


possibility of changes in the regime's defense and intelligence
portfolios as a result of this massive failure of security. End
comment.

19. (U) Tripoli minimize considered.

FERNANDEZ

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