Heavy fighting in Darfur, Sudan
Khartoum - Heavy clashes between the Sudanese army and a coalition of armed groups in Northern Darfur has caused a number of casualties on both sides, the army and the rebels said on Tuesday.
"An SAF [northern army] patrol was attacked on Sunday by joint forces of the Justice and Equality Movement [JEM] and [Minni] Minnawi's branch of the Sudan Liberation Army [SLA] in north Darfur," army spokesperson Sawarmi Khaled Saad told AFP.
"The fighting resulted in a number of casualties and people injured from both sides, but we don't have the details yet. SAF destroyed 10 of their vehicles."
The joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission (Unamid) confirmed there had been fighting in an area far north of the state capital El-Fasher, and reported more clashes on Tuesday.
"Unamid has received information from an armed movement that its position in Muzbat, located approximately 60km northeast of the mission's nearest team site, was attacked on April 10," said a source with the peacekeepers.
"Yesterday [Monday], armed elements of JEM and SLA-Abdelwahid were observed in the region."
"Then, shortly afterwards, peacekeepers witnessed a build up of government forces... Fighting was reported today between the armed movements and the government," the source added.
JEM, the most heavily armed of the Darfur rebel groups, said on Monday that the army had attacked the Sagor area, northwest of El-Fasher, with Antonov aircraft, MiG fighter planes and around 180 land vehicles.
JEM joined with SLA-Minnawi
The group confirmed that it had fought alongside the rebel faction of SLA-Minnawi, but claimed that it had defeated the government forces and captured 13 of their vehicles, together with ammunition and heavy weapons.
"There was very heavy fighting. The army bombed villages in the area and many people were killed and displaced," said Gibril Adam, JEM spokesperson.
He said the rebels and the army had both suffered losses, in addition to the civilians killed, without providing casualty figures.
"The SAF have now withdrawn and the area is fully under our control," he added.
JEM has sided with the SLA factions of Abdelwahid Nur and Minni Minnawi in periodic clashes with the army since December, when Minnawi took up arms against the government for failing to implement a peace deal he signed with them in 2006.
Renewed fighting between rebels and the army over the past four months has resulted in more than 70 000 new arrivals at camps in Darfur set up for the displaced, according to UN reports.
The JEM was one of just two armed groups participating in the foundering peace talks with the Sudanese government in Doha.
But they have been in limbo since officials in Khartoum announced unilateral plans to hold a referendum on the administrative status of the Darfur region.
Adam, the JEM spokesperson, said on Tuesday that his group was not currently engaged in direct talks with the government.
"We want a comprehensive peace. If the government insists on taking this referendum issue out of the talks, then the negotiations here in Doha and the whole peace process will not go anywhere."
At least 300 000 people have been killed in Darfur and 1.8 million people forced to flee their homes since non-Arab rebels first rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime in 2003, according to the United Nations.
The government puts the death toll at 10 000.