Darfur rebels seize town from Sudan troops

Darfur rebels on Sunday seized the town of Umm Baru near the border with neighbouring Chad from Sudanese soldiers, the hybrid UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said.

“The fighting is over, Umm Baru has fallen. The garrison has fallen,” said UNAMID spokesperson Kemal Saiki, referring to the Sudanese military presence in the town 100km east of the frontier.

Earlier he said the fighting had forced 200 civilians to flee and seek refuge around the peacekeepers’ base at Umm Baru after the clashes erupted at 1pm GMT.

Saiki was unable to say how many rebels or soldiers were involved in the fighting, or to give figures for casualties.

“We presume that it’s the JEM because of recent clashes in this sector,” he said of the Justice and Equality Movement, the most active Darfur rebel grouping.

He added that the rebels “did nothing against our troops” in Umm Baru.

Sudanese army spokesperson Othman al-Aghbash insisted government forces still controlled Umm Baru, saying: “JEM supported by Chadian troops attacked our positions three times today but we defeated them back.

“They suffered heavy losses” of people and equipment, he added.

The town in Sudan’s North Darfur province has been the scene of clashes over the past two weeks between JEM fighters and pro-government forces.

JEM rebels had already seized control of the town of Kornoy 50km from the Chad border and captured several Sudanese army officers and soldiers there.

“For a week the Sudanese army has been bombarding us daily at Kornoy,” said JEM spokesperson Ahmed Hussein Adam on Sunday. He was unable to confirm that his group had attacked Umm Baru, however.

He said the rebel group was on the point of releasing 50 Sudanese soldiers captured recently by the JEM.

“It’s a good gesture” under the Doha accord, he said of the deal the group signed with the Khartoum government in February aimed at holding peace talks.

A new round of JEM-Khartoum talks is due to get under way in Doha on Wednesday.

Ahmad bin Abdullah al-Mahmud, Qatar’s minister of state for foreign affairs, on Sunday met Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum ahead of the meeting.

The official Suna news agency said Mahmud was also expected to visit Ndjamena for talks with Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, amid tense relations with Sudan.

Chad accused Sudan of backing a recent offensive by Chadian rebels on its territory, and Khartoum accuses Ndjamena of supporting the JEM rebels.

The United Nations says up to 300 000 people have died in Darfur from the combined effects of war, famine and disease and about 2,7-million fled their homes. Sudan puts the death toll at 10 000.

Meanwhile US special envoy Scott Gration is due to visit China, Qatar, Britain and France over the next week to revive efforts to bring peace to Darfur, a State Department official said in Washington on Friday.

The United States sees China as a key to ending the six-year war because it is a government ally, military supplier and importer of Sudanese oil.

Although Gration has visited Sudan since his appointment by President Barack Obama on March 18, he will not do so on this trip, the official said. - AFP

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