Rebels, gov't-backed militias clash in Sudan's Darfur
Rebels and government-backed militias clashed close to a strategic town in Sudan's South Darfur state, insurgents and peacekeepers said
Rebels and government-backed militias clashed close to a strategic town in Sudan's South Darfur state on Thursday, insurgents and peacekeepers said, leaving an unknown number dead.
The latest outbreak of fighting stoked tensions in the region ahead of a decision by the International Criminal Court on whether to issue an arrest warrant against Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur.
The rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) told Reuters militia fighters loyal to a former insurgent leader attacked its forces close to the south Darfur town of Muhajiriya, a town 80 km (50 miles) from south Darfur's capital, Nyala.
"They suffered a severe defeat. There were lots of deaths and injured," said the chairman of JEM's legislative council Al-Tahir al-Feki, speaking by phone from London.
Al-Feki said the attackers came from a branch of the Sudan Liberation Army led by Minni Arcua Minnawi, the only rebel leader to sign a peace deal with the government in 2006.
No one was immediately available for comment from Minnawi's faction, which has a stronghold in Muhajiriya.
The joint U.N./African Union UNAMID peacekeeping force in Darfur said it could not comment on the outcome of the fighting or the number of casualties.
"But we can confirm fighting took place. Many IDPs (internally displaced people) are taking shelter close to our camp which is practically in Muhajiriya," said spokesman Noureddine Mezni.
JEM commander Khalil Ibrahim said commanders in the area told him they had taken control of Muhajiriya. But the statement could not be verified independently.
The news came a day after Sudan's army said it bombed JEM positions around the town, a rare acknowledgement of aerial attacks that are banned by ceasefires and a U.N. Security Council resolution.
Mostly non-Arab rebels in Darfur took up arms against Sudan's government in 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the remote western region.
Khartoum armed mostly-Arab militias to crush the rebellion which has since disintegrated into a chaotic conflict involving bandits, rival tribes, insurgent splinter groups and government forces.
International experts say 200,000 have died and 2.5 million been driven from their homes in the conflict. Khartoum says 10,000 have died.
Reuters Last Mod: 15 Ocak 2009, 16:07