KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Darfur rebels clashed with Sudanese government troops on Thursday, three days after announcing they had resumed ceasefire negotiations, rebel and humanitarian sources said.
It was the latest setback for international mediators who have struggled to secure any lasting accords in more than seven years of fighting.
The rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said government forces attacked it and fighters from other rebel forces near Dar al Salaam, 56 km (35 miles) south of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, which is also used as a headquarters by international peacekeepers.
No one from Sudan’s army was immediately available for comment. An official from Darfur’s joint U.N./African Union UNMAID peacekeepers said it had received unconfirmed reports of fighting which staff members were investigating.
JEM released a statement quoting one of its commanders, Ali Alwafi, as saying the rebels had entered Dar al Salaam during the fighting. “For the first time, JEM troops fought shoulder to shoulder with forces belonging to Minni Minawi, Abdel Wahed Nur and others,” the statement said.
He referred to two factions of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, loyal to Minni Arcua Minnawi and Abdel Wahed Mohamed al-Nur.
Nur, who has spent many years exiled in Paris, has boycotted all peace negotiations. One of Nur’s senior officials, Ibrahim al-Helwu, confirmed the fighting and said the factions were considering forming an alliance.
Minnawi was the only rebel leader to sign a 2006 peace deal with Khartoum. Sudan’s army declared him a military target earlier this month, accusing him of breaking a ceasefire and plotting to join other rebels.
UNAMID said Sudan’s army attacked Minnawi’s forces several times over the past two weeks in areas south of Thursday’s fighting.
JEM announced it restarted ceasefire talks with Sudan’s government on Monday seven months after it walked out of the region’s tortuous peace process, hosted in Doha.
Peace talks have coincided with a surge of fighting in the past in Darfur, as both sides try to demonstrate their strength and maximise territorial gains ahead of settlements.
JEM and the SLM launched the rebellion in 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the arid region.