The Sudanese government has been quietly cooperating with an international coalition enforcing the No-Fly Zone (NFZ) over neighboring Libya, diplomats at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) told Reuters.
|A US F16 plane takes-off from the Aviano air base on March 20, 2011 (AFP)|
"Sudan has given permission to use its airspace," a diplomat said this week. Another diplomat confirmed it, adding Sudan was not alone.
This month and after much political wrangling, the UNSC adopted resolution 1973 which establishes a NFZ over Libya and authorizes the use of "all necessary means" to protect civilians. This decision was made possible mainly by the Arab League which made a formal request on behalf of its member states for a NFZ.
A popular uprising in Libya against leader Muammar Gaddafi started mid-February quickly turned into an armed rebellion where opposition, aided by military defectors, managed to overrun government forces in the East and control major cities in the East including Benghazi.
Gaddafi’s forces reportedly unleashed its air force against the opposition in the cities they controlled resulting in large civilian casualties and injuries. Furthermore, eyewitnesses said that African mercenaries were utilized by the Libyan regime who are implementing a ’shoot-to-kill’ policy.
The UNSC has already referred Libya to the International Criminal Court (ICC) whose chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is investigating Gaddafi, his sons and his inner circle for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Western warplanes have flown more than 300 sorties over Libya and more than 162 Tomahawk cruise missiles have been fired in the United Nations-mandated mission. Qatar and United Arab Emirates have joined the coalition by sending aircrafts for enforcement of NFZ.
But other Arab countries such as Egypt and Tunisia have refused to take part in the military operations amid raging suspicion in the region on the motives of the Western intervention. Libyan opposition however, has welcomed the airstrikes which saved it from a near-certain defeat at the hands of Gaddafi’s forces which besieged rebel controlled cities.
The African Union (AU) has warned beforehand against military operations in Libya but despite this position Gabon, Nigeria and South Africa later voted in favor of the resolution at the UNSC.
A poll by the Doha based Al-Jazeera TV website showed an overwhelming majority in favor of the NFZ.
Sudan has initially resisted the draft resolution at the Arab League calling for a NFZ but later backed down. The Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir has said this month that he opposes any foreign intervention in Libya "so that it does not turn into another Iraq".
The UNSC resolution does not oblige countries to participate in implementing the NFZ or even grant permission for overflights.
Sudan’s U.N. ambassador, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, neither confirmed nor denied that Khartoum had granted permission to coalition air forces.
"I cannot give you concrete information on this," he told Reuters, adding he did not believe "a final decision had been made" by his government. He did reiterate Sudan’s support for the Arab League call for a no-fly zone.
Khartoum may not want its involvement made public for fear of alienating its Islamic base which is resentful of any association with the West particularly in the military arena even if they view the Gaddafi regime unfavorably.
Reports of close cooperation between Sudan and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) since 2001 in places like Somalia and Iraq has already drawn criticism among the government supporters.
Diplomats said it was understandable that Khartoum was not flaunting its cooperation with the coalition forces, which will help improve its battered reputation with Washington, London and Paris. Khartoum is currently lobbying the United States to remove it from the state sponsors of terrorism list.
Libya borders Sudan and its western region of Darfur in which conflict between the Sudanese government and ethnic rebels killed 300,000 people and displaced more than 2.7 million since it erupted in 2003, according to UN figures.
Relations between the two countries have seen ups and downs particularly over the Darfur conflict. At one point Libya was accused by Sudan of aiding the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attack on Libya in May 2008.
However, it was Gaddafi that pushed the AU to grant Bashir immunity from arrest in the continent despite an arrest warrant against him issued by the ICC for his alleged role in Darfur war crimes.
Libya is currently hosting JEM leader Ibrahim Khalil after being refused entry by the Chadian authorities last year where he was based. Sudan has sought without success to have Libya expel him.