UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Sudan’s U.N. envoy on Friday vehemently rejected allegations from a top U.N. official who accused Khartoum of delaying a Medivac helicopter trying to evacuate three dying Ethiopian peacekeepers.
In the latest escalation of words between the world body and Khartoum, Sudanese Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman also accused the United Nations of using its aircraft to transport “unauthorized people” in Sudan, where the government is battling multiple insurgencies across its territory.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said on Thursday that Sudanese government forces threatened to shoot at the Medivac helicopter, delaying its take-off for three hours. The three Ethiopian troops, who had been badly wounded on Tuesday by a land mine, died hours after the blast.
“I would like to refute in the strongest possible terms what has been declared, that the Sudanese authorities delayed approval for the helicopter,” Osman told Reuters. “What (Le Roy) said is illogical and not correct.”
“When you request approval for a plane from a remote area in the wilderness there is a process to follow,” Osman said. “They gave them the approval in less than three hours.”
He said approval was received in 2 to 2-1/4 hours.
“It’s only normal in an area where there are military clashes,” Osman said. “You have to assess the safety of the plane because there are rebels fighting there. They are active, engaged in military actions against the government.”
Four peacekeepers in all died from the land mine explosion, one of them instantly. Seven others were wounded.
They were members of a patrol of the U.N. Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), which had recently arrived in Mabok, southeast of Abyei town, in the region disputed between Sudan and newly independent South Sudan.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was “alarmed” by reports Khartoum had delayed the Medivac and “strongly condemns ... (its) non-compliance with its obligation and its obstruction of the work of the United Nations.”
Highlighting the dangers facing peacekeepers in Sudan, a soldier with the U.N.-African Union force in the western Darfur region was killed and another wounded by unidentified gunmen on Friday, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
The United Nations says that under its status-of-forces agreements with Sudan and other countries where it has troops, medical evacuation helicopters can take off immediately.
Osman described standard procedure differently.
“You cannot clear it unless you are sure that all measures of safety are there,” he said. “They gave it (clearance) in less than three hours. That is normal.”
He said the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) should focus on stopping violence by rebels and improving peace and security in Sudan.
Osman added that Khartoum had good reason to be cautious when granting the United Nations flight clearance.
“When we receive any requests for overflying clearance for DPKO flights, we should think twice because I tell you they have a bad history,” he said. “They have transported unauthorized people to safety and areas where they are not authorized to go to.” He gave no examples.
U.N. officials say Khartoum has become increasingly critical of the United Nations in public in recent months and has threatened to order international peacekeepers out of its conflict-torn Darfur region.
Sudan and South Sudan both hope to include Abyei in their territory. South Sudan seceded from the north to form a new nation on July 9 in line with the results of a January referendum held as part of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war between the north and south.
Khartoum and Juba have yet to agree on who will control Abyei, stirring fears a long-running quarrel over the region could sour the secession and spark a broader conflict.
In response to escalating fighting in Abyei, the U.N. Security Council in June authorized the deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian UNISFA troops to the Abyei region for six months.
Officials say about 1,500 of those have so far arrived.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham