Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels said they clashed with Sudan’s army on Monday and Tuesday, in the latest sign of a surge of violence that has cast a shadow over foundering peace talks.
JEM said it defeated large government attacks in Uzban, 120km south-east of the capital of North Darfur state El Fasher on Monday, and another nearby settlement on Tuesday afternoon.
The government-aligned Sudanese Media Centre reported it was Sudan’s army that beat the rebels in Uzban, saying seven government soldiers and 43 JEM fighters died in the fighting.
No one was immediately available from Sudan’s army to confirm the figures.
Violence has spiked in the mostly desert region since JEM suspended participation in troubled peace talks in the Qatari capital, Doha, in May.
The seven-year conflict has rumbled on despite a succession of peace talks and ceasefires backed by international mediators, two Washington administrations and celebrity activists.
JEM was one of two main rebel groups that launched a revolt in 2003, accusing Sudan’s government of marginalising the region. The government’s brutal counter-insurgency campaign against the mostly non-Arab rebels was labelled genocide by Washington and some campaigners, a charge Khartoum rejects.
In May JEM moved its forces out of its previous stronghold near the border with neighbouring Chad and has since reported repeated clashes with Sudan’s army in central and eastern parts of the region.
“Khartoum is insisting on trying to find a military solution to Darfur … They keep sending column after column after us,” JEM official al-Tahir al-Feki told Reuters. He said one JEM commander and three fighters had died in the fighting on Monday.
Al-Feki said JEM had seized enough fuel, weapons and equipment in recent raids on government forces to see it through the rainy season, which stretches into September in some parts of the region.
Darfur’s joint United Nations/African Union force (Unamid) said its troops stationed nearby heard large explosions coming from the area on Monday.
“We have indications that the civilian population has been affected by the fighting,” said Unamid spokesperson Kemal Saiki.
The Sudanese Media Centre quoted army spokesperson al-Sawarmi Khaled as saying forces had cleared JEM out of the area and now controlled the territory.
Sudan’s government is continuing peace talks in Doha with an umbrella group of small rebel factions called the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM). JEM, Darfur’s most militarily powerful rebel force, pulled out of Doha partly in protest at LJM’s involvement. — Reuters