Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sudan Army Battles Darfur Rebels

Saturday, May 15, 2010
15:23 Mecca time, 12:23 GMT

Sudan army battles Darfur rebels

Jem took up arms against the Sudanese government in 2003 accusing it of marginalising Darfur

Sudanese forces say they have seized control of a key rebel held area in the western Darfur region after killing more than 150 members of the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem).

"We have liberated Jebel Moon from the Justice and Equality Movement," Al-Sawarmi Khaled, an army spokesman, said on Saturday.

"We have detained 61 rebels and confiscated 16 cars and three large trucks."

The army gave no details of army casualties in the clashes.

The Sudanese government signed a framework peace pact with Jem in February, which was hailed by the international community as a major step towards bringing peace to Darfur after seven years of war.

But talks soon reached a stalemate and a deadline set for completing the peace deal passed on March 15 without agreement.

Police convoy 'attacked'

The latest fighting came after police said 27 police officers and 30 rebels had been killed on Thursday when Jem attacked a convoy in South Darfur.

According to police, Jem fighters "attacked a convoy carrying food destined for the citizens of Darfur but the attack was thwarted by central police forces who were protecting the convoy".

But Jem said it was acting in self-defence during Thursday's fighting.

"It is completely false. Our forces were defending themselves from attack by the army which has intensified its operations since the end of elections" in Sudan on April 15, Ahmed Hussein Adam, a Jem spokesman, told the AFP news agency.

The latest violence seems to have dealt a further blow to the already shaky peace talks between Jem and the government in Khartoum.

On Friday, Jem denied a UN mediator's claim that the group would resume the Qatari-brokered peace talks.

Adam said the group was actually leaning towards quitting the negotiations altogether.

"We are still suspending our participation in the negotiations, and we are closer to withdrawing from the negotiations in Qatar," he told the AFP news agency.

"We are in a true state of war after the government reneged on the ceasefire agreement."

'Ceasefire violated'

Jem has accused Sudan's military of attacking its positions last month, saying Khartoum was trying to impose a "military solution" to the conflict, which the United Nations estimates has killed 300,000 people.

Khartoum, which says 10,000 people have died since the rebels took up arms in 2003, denied that the offensive took place.

Ismail al-Haj Musa, a leading member of the Sudan's ruling National Congress Party, told Al Jazeera that claims that the government violated the ceasefire agreement were "absolutely untrue".

"We always hear such false allegations from Jem to justify its return to square one of war once again," he said.

"One can ask the UN and African Union observers on the ground to make sure who has first violated ceasefire. They will say that Jem has.

"If Jem wants to go back to war, the Sudanese army and police are all prepared and on alert to stop any offensive."

In another sign that peace efforts were deteriorating, Khartoum last week sought Interpol's helpin arresting Khalil Ibrahim, the Jem leader, over a 2008 attack near Khartoum that killed 220 people.

Army build-up

Unamid, a joint peacekeeping mission by the UN and the African Union, has said it has reports that Sudanese army and Jem fighters have been massing in North Darfur state's Shangil Tobay area.

Hundreds of refugees have fled a camp near El Fasher, a government stronghold and hub for aid workers and peacekeepers, as the rival forces gathered.

Approximately 70 per cent of the 2,000 people living in the New Shangil Tobay Camp had left fearing clashes, Unamid said in a statement on Wednesday.

Two international sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters there were signs Jem was moving south east through Darfur towards the neighbouring region of South Kordofan, where it has attacked oilfields in the past.

Al-Tahir al-Feki, a Jem official, confirmed the group had troops around Shangil Tobay and South Kordofan but said they were on "administrative" missions, holding talks with local leaders.

Sudan's army earlier this month accused Jem of attacking villages in West and North Darfur states to expand its territory.

Jem was one of two rebel forces that launched a revolt against Sudan's government in 2003, accusing it of starving Darfur of funding and marginalising its population.

The desert region, which is the size of France, has been gripped by a civil war since then and about 2.7 million have been displaced, according to the UN.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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