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Sudan Tribune

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Rebels say army launches major offensive in Darfur

Nov 19, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — The Sudanese government has launched a major offensive in North Darfur despite an agreement to hold new talks among all parties to the conflict, Darfur rebels said on Sunday.

A rebel commander said clashes continued on Saturday and Sunday, after joint attacks by government forces and militia on rebel bases in the Bir Mazza area on Wednesday and Thursday.

The African Union (AU) monitoring mission, which had condemned last week’s attacks, confirmed that fighting was continuing. However, the Sudanese army denied it was conducting an offensive.

“We have split into two or three groups and all have fighting,” said Jar el-Neby, a commander from the rebel National Redemption Front (NRF), which rejects a May peace accord signed by only one of many rebel factions.

“The government did not use planes yesterday but today the Antonovs are circling,” he told Reuters from Darfur.

Government troops and allied militia known as Janjaweed were still inside the former rebel town of Bir Mazza, Neby said, calling on the international community to intervene to protect civilians there.

“We have confirmed at least six people killed and more attacks on civilians and looting of cattle is going on,” he said.

The AU confirmed the continued fighting. “It’s an open secret,” said one AU official.

A Sudanese army spokesman denied the allegations.

“There were clashes between some tribes and the rebels in the area and the armed forces intervened just to protect the civilians there,” he said. “But the clashes were very minor, the (rebel) and AU reports are untrue.”

MILITIA AND REBELS

Experts estimate that about 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million forced from their homes in 3-1/2 years of conflict in Darfur. Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003, accusing the government of marginalising the remote west.

Khartoum mobilised tribal militias to stem the violence. Those militias now stand accused of a campaign of rape, murder and pillage.

The North Darfur clashes follow a refusal by Sudanese authorities to allow U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland to visit areas near the fighting last week, despite Khartoum’s public insistence that security is good in the region.

Foreign journalists have also been denied travel permits.

A meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Thursday agreed that the May peace deal for Darfur was inadequate and a new process should be activated under joint leadership of the U.N. and the AU.

However, the rebels said the government was merely trying to buy time to press on with its military operations. A struggling, ill-equipped AU force has failed to halt the violence.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in Addis Ababa that Sudan had agreed in principle to a joint U.N.-AU force in Darfur, but Sudanese officials later denied any such agreement.

“The United Nations can offer logistical support to help maintain stability in Darfur rather than replacing the African force there,” Nafie Ali Nafie, Sudan’s most powerful presidential adviser, told the state news agency SUNA.

“Sudan will never consent to the deployment of international forces to replace those of the African Union, who have shown their ability to execute their role in the region.”

(Reuters)