KHARTOUM (Reuters) Jan 13 - Darfur rebels said they attacked a government-held town in the Jabel Marra area of western Sudan on Wednesday in retaliation for army bombardment of their areas, a move likely to hinder peace talks set to open this month.
Tensions were already high in oil-producing Sudan which is gearing up for presidential, parliamentary and state governor elections in April.
The Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) loyal to founder Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur said they attacked Golo in Jabel Marra in retaliation for government bombings of rebel-controlled areas there and in the Jabel Moun area on the border with Chad.
“The government started this with bombing in Jabel Moun and in Jabel Marra,” said SLA commander Ibrahim el-Helwu.
“We attacked Golo this morning — we have casualties and the government has many casualties,” he added.
The joint U.N.-African union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) does not have troops in the area but said aid workers caught in the crossfire had sought refuge in their compound.
“For the time being they (aid workers) are safe,” said Balla Keita, UNAMID commander for West Darfur.
A government intelligence source said fighting was still going on, but Sudan’s army was not immediately available to comment.
Darfur peace talks, which have faltered for the past three years, are due to reopen this month in Qatar, but the fighting is likely to fuel mistrust between the rebels and Khartoum.
In 2003 mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government, accusing it of neglecting the region. Khartoum mobilised mainly Arab militias to crush the uprising.
The United Nations estimates 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict and that 2 million have been driven from their homes according to the United Nations. Sudan puts the death toll at 10,000.
Last year the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hasan al-Bashir for war crimes in Darfur.
Keita said the government had bombed Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) positions in the Jabel Moun area.
“They have confirmed that they bombed JEM positions because they say JEM is running operations in Jabel Moun,” he said.
A JEM commander in the Jabel Moun area said the attacks had been going on for several days.
“For the past week there has been heavy bombing of our people,” al-Tijani Kharshome told Reuters by telephone.
“There are hundreds of families who have fled their homes and are hungry and thirsty,” said Kharshome, who is from a large Arab tribe in Darfur.