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Cablegate: Darfur Update: Unamid Fears Attacks Coming in Jebel Marra

VZCZCXRO9237
OO RUEHROV RUEHTRO
DE RUEHKH #1199/01 2981554
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 251554Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4623
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 001199

NSC FOR MGAVIN, LETIM
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SUDAN
ADDIS ABABA ALSO FOR USAU

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: MOPS PGOV PHUM PINR PREF KPKO AU SU
SUBJECT: DARFUR UPDATE: UNAMID FEARS ATTACKS COMING IN JEBEL MARRA

REF: A) KHARTOUM 1095

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur
(UNAMID) officials are deeply concerned that the Government of Sudan
(GOS) plans to fortify recent gains against Sudanese Liberation
Army/Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) forces by attacking the rebel stronghold
of West Jebel Marra in the coming weeks. These officials cited as
evidence the resupply of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) base in
Kabkabiya, the mobilization of Arab militia in the area, and the
digging of trenches along the road leading to Jebel Marra. In North
Darfur, UNAMID confirmed the continued presence of Chadian armed
opposition groups, noting that 400 well-armed Chadian rebels in 100
vehicles are active west of El Fasher. Near Shangil Tobaya, clashes,
which injured seven, broke out between Zaghawa and Birgit tribesmen
on October 20 over access to water. A UNAMID peacekeeping force
intervened to stop the fighting, and has pledged to supply water to
the two communities while reconciliation efforts continue. In El
Fasher, former rebel leader Minni Minnawi hosted the third
"Liberation Council" of his Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM/MM) on
October 20, bemoaning lack of support for the Darfur Peace Agreement
(DPA) and criticizing the international community for "running after
the mirage of the non-signatories." Minnawi further urged that his
party be viewed as the inclusive party for all Darfuris. END
SUMMARY.

-------------------------------------------
IS THE GOS PREPARING TO ATTACK JEBEL MARRA?
-------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) UNAMID expressed strong concern on October 21 that the GOS
plans to consolidate recent gains against SLA/AW forces by advancing
from Kebkabiya into West Jebel Marra. Those stationed at UN
teamsites in Kebkabiya and Sartony indicate the SAF has resupplied
its base in Kebkabiya; activated local janjaweed in preparation for
a ground assault; and dug trenches on the road that leads to Jebel
Marra. Attacks in Korma and Tawila earlier this month (reftel)
pushed SLA/AW from their lowland bases and separated SLA Northern
Command from its main commander. Well-informed UN officials in El
Fasher suspect that an empowered SAF, aided by Arab militia based
near Kebkabiya, could attempt to carry out the first advance of its
long-rumored "five-point" plan for taking Jebel Marra. Such an
advance could come as soon as the coming week. The UN will attempt
to conduct an assessment on October 25 (septel).

3. (SBU) Although Jebel Marra comprises the forbidding terrain from
which SLA launched its 2003 attacks on the SAF, various unpaved
roads do afford access in and out of the region. UN authorities see
one particular single-lane unpaved "goat path" near Kebkabiya as
susceptible to SAF use for a strike into SLA/AW-held West Jebel
Marra. The SAF only secured the El Fasher-Kebkabiya road this year,
and observers believe that it is making preparations within the next
7-10 days to commence a coordinated air-ground attack on the road
leading south from Ed al Nagib, located 25 km east of Kebkabiya, to
Sartony. (Note: The village of Sartony is an SLA/AW-held town
located at the approximate coordinates of 240 15' 00" N and 130 30'
00" E, 25 km south of Nagib. End note.)

4. (SBU) Experienced observers in El Fasher speculate that any
attack on Jebel Marra positions would follow the classic GOS
strategy of aerial bombardment followed by a ground attack. Unlike
Khalil Ibrahim's Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), SLA/AW
commanders rarely conduct attacks and remain vulnerable to a SAF
siege, as evidenced by their immediate withdrawal from Tawila in the
wake of the SAF advance of October 2. However, the uneven terrain
that SLA/AW has occupied since its inception may provide it with a
natural advantage to avoid SAF bombardment and push back a janjaweed
ground assault. Additionally, SLA/AW commanders have reported that
fighters managed to capture two SAF trucks carrying ammunition in
August. Despite this, UN observers warn that a high-level of
civilian casualties is possible. They point out that the SAF and
janjaweed have targeted civilians in the past when finding rebels
has proven difficult.

------------------------------
CHADIAN REBELS IN NORTH DARFUR
------------------------------

5. (SBU) The GOS has managed to hold its recent advances in North
Darfur, and appears to be successfully balancing the various forces
under its control to stymie JEM aspirations there. Chadian armed
opposition groups (CAOGs) remain active in North Darfur, and UN
observers believe they comprise part of the GOS's strategy to block
the transit routes used by Darfuri rebels to launch attacks and
connect their separate commands. Accurate UN estimates gleaned from
regular observations of convoys indicate that up to 400 well-armed
Chadian rebels in 100 vehicles are active in North Darfur, west of

KHARTOUM 00001199 002 OF 002


El Fasher. UN field reports have noted that Chadian rebels have
looted markets and houses for food and clothing following advances
in recent months in Darfur. In addition to relying on janjaweed
militias, which were used in attacks in Mau and Tawila earlier this
month, the SAF currently has two Hind "Ababeel" helicopters
stationed at Kutum. Observers have noted that the SAF now conducts
regular patrols in the areas between El Fasher and Kutum, most
likely as a way to announce their presence and discourage rebel
advances.

----------------------------------
TRIBAL CLASHES NEAR SHANGIL TOBAYA
----------------------------------

6. (SBU) UNAMID sources also reported that on October 20, clashes
occurred between Zaghawa and Birgit tribesmen between Jabel Moskul
and Jabelti (about 20 km SE of Shangil Tobaya). A UNAMID
peacekeeping force in Shangal Tobaya intervened by interposing their
Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) between the two groups to stop the
fighting. Both tribes, however, suffered casualties, and seven
tribesmen were taken for treatment to the UN level 1 Hospital in
Shangil Tobaya. . The cause of the clash was attributed to the
struggle over access to limited water sources. As a temporary
solution, the UNAMID peacekeeping force in Shangil Tobaya has
pledged to supply water to the communities while reconciliation
efforts continue.

----------------------------------
MINNAWI HOSTS "LIBERATION COUNCIL"
----------------------------------

7. (SBU) Minni Minnawi hosted the third "Liberation Council" of his
party (SLM/MM) in El Fasher on October 20, hosting local politicians
and members of his Zaghawa-based coalition from across Darfur in a
show of political strength. Complaining that the ruling National
Congress Party (NCP) had not provided funding to the DPA, Minnawi
also criticized the international community for not fully funding
UNAMID, and "running after the mirage of the non-signatories."
Joined by several Darfuri allies praising SLM/MM's activities in
uniting Darfur, Minnawi pushed for his party to be seen as the
"inclusive and complete" political movement for Darfuris. Speaking
with poloff following the speech, several SLM/MM confidantes
admitted that their party has yet to enunciate a strategy for next
year's elections, adding that it was "too soon" for SLM/MM to commit
to any option.

8. (SBU) COMMENT: The potential for the GOS to initiative further
attacks on SLA/AW in North Darfur is of concern. With the rebel
movements weak and scattered, such an offensive could derail the
fragile efforts at rebel unification necessary for the commencement
of peace talks. Meanwhile, UNAMID's successful intervention to halt
tribal clashes near Shangil Tobaya is a promising sign, offering
hope that UNAMID's new military leadership may result in more
active implementation of its peacekeeping mandate.

WHITEHEAD

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