Incursion Crushed, Sudan Reports

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 11, 2008

NAIROBI, May 10 -- Darfur rebels launched an unprecedented attack on the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on Saturday, crossing hundreds of miles of desert in an attempt to overthrow the government of President Omar Bashir, according to Sudanese officials and the rebels.

Within a few hours, however, the Sudanese government said the attempt had been crushed. State television broadcast pictures of bloodied bodies in the streets and confessions from prisoners who appeared to have been badly beaten.

Sudanese officials immediately accused neighboring Chad of backing the rebels.

"The main aim of this failed terrorist sabotage attack was to provoke media coverage and let people imagine that they had the ability to enter Khartoum," a ruling party official said in the broadcast, according to the Reuters news agency. "Thank God this attempt has been completely defeated."

The Sudanese government has waged a brutal, five-year campaign against several rebel groups and civilians in the country's western Darfur region, where hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. For the most part, the fighting has been confined to that area. But the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, has frequently vowed to take the war to the capital, which has been spared the fighting that has devastated other parts of the country in recent decades.

On Saturday, the rebel group said that the attack was not over and that it had received "internal support," a claim echoed by a U.S. source in the region who had received reports that Sudanese soldiers had joined the rebels along with other indications of fresh divisions within Bashir's government.

If confirmed, the reports would represent a far more troubling scenario than a rebel attack, which analysts have long said would be doomed against Sudan's military.

Besides being highly unpopular across Sudan -- where just about every region outside Khartoum complains of being oppressed and neglected by a government flush with oil money -- Bashir has struggled to maintain political alliances within his inner circle and has crushed nascent coup plots in recent years.

Bashir contends with the questionable loyalties of a Sudanese army dominated by soldiers from Darfur, where his government has drawn international condemnation for the violence.

"The facts on the ground suggest there is something internal," said the U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns. "We don't know the extent of what it is or how far it has gone."

Bashir, who has ruled Sudan since 1989, was in Saudi Arabia.

The attack marked the first time in decades that fighting has breached Khartoum, a sprawling, sand-blown city of donkey carts and new avant-garde hotels on the banks of the Nile.

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