Darfur clashes claim dozens of lives

2010-11-05 20:52

Juba - Clashes this week between Darfur rebels and police have claimed dozens of lives, including 37 police and an undetermined number of rebels, officials said on Friday.

On Wednesday, police clashed with fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement in south Darfur.

The interior ministry said rebels had attacked a fuel and supplies convoy, while the JEM said government forces had hit its positions.

The clashes "left 37 dead among the police", George Charpentier, UN humanitarian affairs coordinator in Sudan, said at a news conference in the south Sudan capital of Juba.

Other UN officials spoke of perhaps 60 dead among the rebels, but cautioned that these figures could not be confirmed.

JEM military spokesperson Ali al-Wafi told AFP "we lost a certain number of fighters, but not a lot".

And Wafi said there had been new fighting between JEM and government forces on Friday morning in North Kordofan state.

"This morning... we had clashes with security forces in the Al-Majrour sector" of the state, he said.

Confirmation was not immediately available from the Sudanese army.

North Kordofan lies between Darfur in the west and the capital, Khartoum, to the east. It is a key transit point for goods heading for Darfur from Port Sudan, on the Red Sea coast.

On Wednesday, the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur called on the rebels and the government to stop the fighting.

Recent weeks have seen clashes between the military and another rebel group, Abdelwahid Nur's Sudan Liberation Army.

Analysts expect a spike in the clashes in the western region ahead of an independence referendum that will be held in south Sudan in January.

"The Sudanese army does not want to fight on two fronts at once, and that's why it wants to weaken the rebels before the referendum in south Sudan," said one observer.

JEM reached a ceasefire and entered peace talks with Khartoum earlier this year but the talks foundered amid renewed fighting.

Darfur has been gripped by a civil war since 2003 that has killed 300 000 people and displaced another 2.7 million, according to UN figures. Khartoum says 10 000 people have died in the conflict.