Heavy gunfire heard in west of Khartoum

"There is very, very heavy shooting here and we are all terrified," said the resident.

Heavy gunfire heard in west of Khartoum

Heavy gunfire was heard in the west of Sudan's capital on Saturday and helicopters and army vehicles rushed through the streets towards the area, witnesses said.

Darfur rebels fought battles with Sudan's army in the North Kordofan province bordering Khartoum on Friday and Saturday, according to a local government official and witnesses.

The shooting in west Omdurman could be heard down the telephone of one resident who telephoned Reuters on Saturday.

"There is very, very heavy shooting here and we are all terrified," the resident called al-Sadig said.

If the Darfur rebels were involved, it would be the closest they have come to the centre of Khartoum.

A Reuters witness saw an attack helicopter and a convoy of 10 army trucks with machine guns attached on their way to Omdurman, a western suburb of Khartoum.

Many in Khartoum hunkered down at home and the streets were filled by people rushing to their houses.

Earlier, the Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said it was strengthening its forces in Kordofan but not attacking government troops to avoid causing civilian casualties.

But a local government official said the heavily armed rebels had scattered after an army counter-attack.

Sudan tightened security in the Sudanese capital late on Thursday because of the fighting and the army accused Chad on Saturday of backing the rebel.

"The government and the armed Darfur movements are engaged in battles and there was bombing by planes and the rebels have scattered," Abdel Majid Abdel Farid, a member of the administrative council of North Kordofan's eastern town of Hamrat al-Wizz told Reuters from the area.

He said the Darfur rebels had spread out on Friday all over the state in an "unprecedented manner" carrying very heavy weapons.


ATTACK REPULSED

The reports of bombing came from civilians north of his town. "The civilians here are very, very scared," he said.

It was difficult to obtain civilian casualties figures in the area as fighting was continuing, he said. JEM said it was tightening its control on Kordofan.

"We are deploying our forces as and when we see fit to," said senior JEM official al-Tahir al-Feki. "We are making a total deployment and getting a grip on Kordofan.

"But we are not engaging in any activities that would result in displacing civilians."

The army told the state news agency SUNA in a statement it had repulsed an attack from the Chadian army which used heavy artillery in the Chad-Darfur area of KashKash late on Friday.

Darfur's JEM have attacked government forces in Kordofan in the past in hit-and-run raids.

International experts estimate some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million killed in five years of fighting in Darfur after mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms accusing central government of neglect.

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for a junior government minister and an allied militia leader accused of war crimes. Khartoum refuses to hand them over and blames the Western media for exaggerating the conflict.

Reuters
Last Mod: 10 Mayıs 2008, 18:03
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