Sudan bombs north Darfur town

Sudanese government aircraft bombed a rebel-held town in Darfur on Monday, insurgent groups said, hours after the government said it was investigating a bloody rebel raid on one of its bases last month.

Reports of the attack came seven weeks before rebel groups and the Khartoum government are set to meet for peace talks, and coincided with renewed calls from the United Nations for the two sides to cease hostilities and prepare for the arrival of a 26 000-strong force of UN and African Union peacekeepers.

Abu-Bakr Mohammed Kadu, a field commander in the Sudanese Liberation Army’s Unity (SLA-Unity) faction, said government Antonov planes and helicopter gunships attacked Haskanita, and then ground forces entered the town in north Darfur from just after 3pm local time.

Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr, from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) which also has forces in the town, said rebels had fought off the ground attack after three hours.

”We have captured 50 government troops and a brigadier,” he told Reuters. ”The government is just interested in pushing us out of our areas. It is not interested in peace talks.”

Abdel Aziz added that seven fighters from the joint JEM/SLA-Unity force had died in the attack. ”We still do not know the number of civilian casualties,” he added.

Sudanese military officials were not available for comment.

A spokesperson for the African Union, which has a small force of peacekeepers in Haskanita, confirmed he had received reports of fighting in the town, although the details still had to be checked by officers.

It was not clear whether the attack was in retaliation for a raid by the SLA-Unity and JEM on a government base just over 200km east of Haskanita at the end of August.

The justice ministry said on Monday it had launched an inquiry into six JEM members it suspects masterminded the attack that killed 41 people at the government base in the town of Wad Banda in the Kordofan region across the border from Darfur.

International experts estimate 200 000 people have died in more than four years of conflict in Darfur and 2,5-million others have fled their homes.

Washington calls the violence genocide, a term European governments are reluctant to use.

Khartoum says only 9 000 people have been killed.

Paris mission

Peace talks between Khartoum and rebel groups are expected to take place in Libya on October 27.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to hostilities as he wrapped up a six-day tour of Sudan, Libya and Chad on Sunday.

”There must be an end to violence and insecurity, a strengthened ceasefire supported by the incoming Unamid-Hybrid Operation, as well as an improvement in the humanitarian situation,” he said.

Ban said the priority now was to persuade as many Darfur rebel groups as possible to attend the Libyan talks.

Riek Machar, the vice-president of the semi-autonomous southern Sudan, flew to France late on Sunday with a team of senior politicians to try and persuade one key Darfur rebel leader to attend the negotiations.

Abdel Wahid Mohamed el-Nur, the Paris-based founder of the Sudan Liberation Movement, has so far refused to take part, demanding an end to hostilities in Darfur before talks.

British Foreign Office Minister for Africa, Mark Malloch Brown, who arrived in Khartoum on Monday ahead of a one-day visit to Darfur, told Reuters Britain and France were also pressing Abdel Wahid to attend.

Another rebel leader, Suleiman Jamous, said on Monday he was still waiting to hear when he would be allowed to fly to Kenya for medical treatment, six days after Sudan’s president promised he would be allowed to leave. – Reuters

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