updated 1/26/2005 8:46:19 PM ET 2005-01-27T01:46:19

The Sudanese air force bombed villagers in South Darfur on Wednesday, observers from the African Union reported, and an international aid organization said casualties were inflicted.

“It is a major cease-fire violation,” said the senior AU political officer for Sudan, Jean Baptiste Natama.

Darfur rebels have often accused the government of using its air force against civilians, and Khartoum has usually denied such charges. Aerial bombardments are rarely confirmed by the AU, which has about 1,400 cease-fire monitors and protection troops in the western Sudan region.

Sudanese government officials could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

An air force Antonov dropped bombs outside the town of Shangil Tobaya, about 40 miles south of El Fasher, at about 3 p.m., the Khartoum-based official of a non-governmental organization said in a phone interview. The official spoke on condition of anonymity and asked that his organization not be named for fear of retribution.

Field workers of the same NGO in Shangil Tobaya saw the bombs exploding on the ground and saw the Antonov circling overhead, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Natama said he intended to report the bombardment to the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa as well as the African Union meeting of foreign ministers, which is due to convene Thursday and Friday in Abuja, Nigeria.

Unknown number of ‘war wounded’
The NGO official said his field workers reported about 25 people took refuge in Shangil Tobaya before and after the bombardment as they were fleeing fighting outside the town. Some of them were “war wounded,” the official said. He did not have figures for the casualties.

The official said local people reported that Sudan Liberation Army rebels have been fighting pro-government Janjaweed militia and regular Sudanese troops in the area around Shangil Tobaya for two weeks.

Previously, the NGO field workers had heard what sounded like an aerial bombardment, but Wednesday was the first time they actually saw one.

The parties to the conflict signed a cease-fire in April 2004 and a similar commitment in November, but the agreement has been broken many times.

Background: Darfur
The Darfur conflict, which the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, began in February 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Army and allied Justice and Equality Movement took up arms against what they saw as years of state neglect and discrimination against Sudanese of African origin.

The government responded with a counter-insurgency campaign in which the Janjaweed, an Arab militia, committed wide-scale abuses against the African population. An estimated 1.8 million people have been displaced in the conflict.

Hardships including disease and malnutrition are believed to have killed more than 70,000 of Darfur’s displaced people since March 2004. But many more have been killed in fighting, although no firm estimate of the direct toll of the war exists.

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