Helicopter downed: Darfur rebels

2011-01-25 22:19

Khartoum - Darfur rebels said on Tuesday they had shot down a Sudanese army helicopter in revenge for sweeping arrests at a camp for people displaced by the eight-year-old conflict in the western region.

"We attacked a combat helicopter in clashes at Tabit" in North Darfur, said Minni Minnawi, the only Darfur rebel leader to sign a peace deal with the Khartoum government in 2006 but who resumed hostilities last month after relations between the two sides soured.

"Everyone on board was killed," he told AFP by telephone, without giving a figure.

Government forces swept [through] the Zamzam camp on the outskirts of the region's historical capital El-Fasher on Sunday, arresting 37 people and seizing weapons and ammunition. The camp is considered a stronghold of Minnawi's faction of the Sudan Liberation Army.

"The government attacked the displaced... our men responded," Minnawi said.

His faction of the SLA is one of three main rebel groups fighting government troops in Darfur with the Abdelwahid Nur branch of the SLA, and the Justice and Equality Movemment.

The UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur (Unamid) confirmed there had been clashes in Tabit, which lies around 50km southeast of El-Fasher, but was unable to confirm a helicopter had been downed.

"There has been fighting since yesterday [Monday] in Tabit, which continued this morning. We didn't have access to the combat zone but, according to the information available to us, the clashes pitted the SLA-Minnawi faction against the Sudanese army," Unamid spokesperson Kemal Saiki told AFP.

The Sudanese army spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.