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Sudan has drones, is pursuing missiles - state media

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan has developed unmanned surveillance planes, is developing missiles, and is now “self-sufficient” in conventional weapons, a Sudanese state news agency reported.

The rare public announcement on Sudan’s military capability gave no details on how far missile development had progressed or where the surveillance drones might be used.

International commentators were sceptical about the scope of its statements, and no one was available for comment from the Ministry of Defence on Wednesday.

“Sudan’s defence minister has revealed that his country has successfully developed unmanned surveillance planes,” the state-run Sudanese Media Centre said in a report on Tuesday.

“The minister of defence, Lt-Gen Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, told reporters that Sudan is now self sufficient in conventional weapons and is also in the process of developing missiles.”

Hussein was quoted as telling journalists that Sudan had received imports of military technology from Russia, Belarus, Korea, Iran, China, Indonesia and Malaysia and had signed deals with China and Russia to modernise its air force.

“We are the number three country in Africa as far as manufacturing military equipment after Egypt and South Africa,” Hussein was quoted as saying.

International commentators said Sudan might be trying to send a message to the organisers of the promised 26,000-strong U.N. and African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur that Khartoum was capable of monitoring their movements.

Experts estimate 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from homes in more than four years of fighting in the western Darfur region.

The government puts the death toll from that conflict -- sparked when rebel groups took up arms against Khartoum accusing it of neglect -- at 9,000.

Stephen Morrison, Africa programme director at the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said there could be some credibility to Sudan’s stating it had drones but he added the real question was the announcement’s timing.

“They may be trying to send a message that they have the capacity to view what is going on on the ground. They are hyper sensitive about the entrance of U.N. forces in Darfur, particularly their air capacity,” he said.

But Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential newsletter, said the self-sufficiency statement sounded like “internal bluster” designed to create the impression Sudan’s military could survive arms embargoes.

“There is no doubt that Sudan has a military capacity, but there is a lot of doubt about how sophisticated it is,” he said.