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Sudan's Macabre Display Of Victory Over Attackers

Following an unprecedented but failed attack by Darfur rebels on the Sudanese capitol, President Omar Bashir staged an exhibition in which soldiers displayed weapons and trucks allegedly seized from the rebels. Video by Miguel Juarez-Lugo for The Washington Post
By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 24, 2008

KHARTOUM, Sudan -- A week after Darfur rebels launched an audacious attack on this sand-swept capital, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir presided over a macabre exhibit aimed at crushing any doubt as to which side won.

With state TV cameras set up across a dusty field, he surveyed a row of battered and bullet-holed Hilux trucks that government forces had seized from the rebels. Bashir raised an ivory-tipped baton, and hundreds of security forces cheered, waving shoes, T-shirts and other clothes allegedly stripped off the doomed fighters.

Then he strolled past a 200-yard-long photo gallery, a grotesque display of burned and dismembered bodies, allegedly those of the rebels. Each image was underlined with the same caption in Arabic: "summary of failure."

"I am sure of my military," said a retired general viewing the exhibit. "See all of these people? They are cheering!"

In reality, though, the rebel assault has unnerved Bashir's government, which has waged a brutal campaign against rebels and civilians in Sudan's western Darfur region, a conflict that had never before reached the capital.

According to Sudanese officials, Western diplomats and others here, the unprecedented, if rather bumbling, assault by Darfur's Justice and Equality Movement -- which involved a 350-mile trek through wide-open desert -- exposed weaknesses in the vaunted military and security forces, which apparently knew for days of the rebels' advance but did not stop it.

As a result, an unease has settled over Khartoum, a normally peaceful city along the Nile where five-star hotels coexist with street-side tea sellers, and security forces now cluster at the foot of bridges, checking passing cars.

Some Sudanese officials and the elite who support them are even acknowledging a rare feeling in their circles -- uncertainty.

"Maybe there is a gap," said Rabie Atti, an official with the ruling National Congress Party. "Maybe there is a weakness, a deficiency somewhere."

On May 10, a Saturday, the rebel column of 300 machine gun-mounted trucks and about 3,000 exhausted and hungry fighters reached the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman and began firing into the air.

Though the rebels were vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the Sudanese military, a nearby barracks of soldiers remained unengaged for at least an hour, according to several sources. Atti said the soldiers were "on standby," but others said they either refused to fight or were ordered not to.

In any case, the rebels -- some of whom appeared to be preteens, witnesses said -- rolled into town with so little resistance that they had time to stop for water, bananas and honey, and some even prayed at a mosque.

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