June 19, 2011 / 6:00 PM / 8 years ago

Darfur rebels say Sudan army attacks their positions

* Rebel group says thousands flee fighting

* Government denies aircraft used, civilians displaced

By Alex Dziadosz

KHARTOUM, June 19 (Reuters) - Rebels in Sudan’s western Darfur region accused the government of attacking them with military vehicles, warplanes and troops on horses on Sunday.

The Sudanese army confirmed it had clashed with rebels in the mountainous Jabel Marra region but said it had not used aircraft and the fighting had not displaced civilians.

Darfur is just one of several flashpoints as Sudan’s south prepares to secede on July 9 — a move analysts say could embolden rebels elsewhere. The north’s army is also battling armed groups in the Southern Kordofan border state.

Violence in Darfur, where mostly non-Arab rebels are fighting government troops backed by largely Arab militias, has fallen from its peak in 2003 and 2004 but a surge in attacks since December has forced tens of thousands to flee.

Ibrahim al-Helwu, a spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) led by Paris-based Abdel Wahed Mohamed al-Nur, said the violence began around midmorning when government troops advanced from the Darfur settlements of Kas and Nyala.

He said 27 people, including 19 civilians, were killed and about 40 wounded after an assault with land troops and Antonov and MiG aircraft.

“From the morning, the government started to attack,” Helwu said, speaking by phone from Paris. “More than 10,000 civilians are displaced from this area”.

Government military spokesman Al-Sawarmi Khaled said troops had fought SLA rebels in the Jabel Marra area on Sunday, causing an unconfirmed number of casualties on both sides.

He denied aircraft were used in the fighting and said civilians had not been harmed or forced to flee.

Separately, Sudan’s army has been battling southern-aligned groups in the north-run oil state of Southern Kordofan for two weeks, raising tensions as the south prepares to become an independent country in less than a month.

At least seven different rebel militias are also fighting the southern Juba government, according to the United Nations. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of masterminding genocide and war crimes in Darfur. Khartoum refuses to recognise the court.

The United Nations says as many as 300,000 people have died during the conflict in Darfur. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.

Qatar has been hosting Darfur peace talks but progress has been hampered by rebel divisions and continued military operations, as Khartoum has gradually reasserted control over towns and other previously rebel-held areas.

The south voted to secede in a January referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.

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