Sudan set for major attack in Blue Nile
Khartoum - Fresh satellite images appear to show the Sudanese army preparing to launch a major assault on the rebel-held border town of Kurmuk in the embattled state of Blue Nile, US monitors said on Friday.
The claims coincide with a statement by rebel group the SPLM-North that the army has carried out air strikes on Kurmuk, targeting the offices of humanitarian organisations including Save the Children.
The satellite pictures, taken on September 21, reveal a mechanised unit of Sudan's military comprising at least a brigade - 3 000 troops or more -- within 64km of Kurmuk, the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) said in a statement.
"These forces appear to be equipped with heavy armour and artillery, supported by helicopter gunships, and pointed south along the main road from the capital of Damazin," said the group, which was set up by Hollywood star and rights activist George Clooney.
"This irrefutable, visual evidence of massive military operations in Blue Nile State provides a human security warning to civilians in Kurmuk and the surrounding area," it added.
The group accused the Khartoum government of using indiscriminate force since May, including targeted air strikes on civilians, in the three border areas of Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile state.
The army spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Fighting has raged in South Kordofan between the Sudanese army and militiamen loyal to the SPLM-North, Sudan's main opposition party, since early June.
Dozens of people were reported killed, including an NGO worker, in heavy fighting on Thursday.
The conflict, apparently triggered by the army's insistence on disarming SPLM-North elements, spilled into nearby Blue Nile state this month, as the government moved to assert its authority within its new borders following South Sudan's formal secession in July.
The forces of the SPLM-North's leader Malik Agar, Blue Nile's elected governor until he was sacked by President Omar al-Bashir when the fighting erupted, were driven out of the state capital Damazin.
But they have held firm in their former civil war stronghold of Kurmuk, on the Ethiopian border.
SPLM-North spokesman Arnu Ngutulu Lodi said in a statement on Friday that an Antonov aircraft bombed the town, targeting the UN headquarters and office of Save the Children.
He gave no details of casualties and the claim could not be independently verified.
Earlier, the World Food Programme urged Khartoum to allow the UN agency full access to Sudan's two embattled border states, saying that at least 235 000 people in both areas needed assistance.