February 2, 2008 (KHARTOUM) — Five people were killed when rebels and state authorities clashed in a town in North Darfur, officials said on Saturday, although the two sides disputed the details of the attack.
An official from North Darfur state said the rebels killed two policemen and three civilians in an attack on Kalamandu town, but the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) Unity wing said it was defending itself from Sudan’s army.
“Rebels entered Kalamandu town and attacked and killed five people,” the official, Abbas Ayoub, told Reuters. He said the attack was on Thursday around 5 p.m. (1400 GMT).
Abdallah Yehia, head of SLA Unity, said the Sudanese army had moved from Kalamandu and attacked their forces. He said they had chased the army back inside the town and he denied the rebels had killed any civilians.
A Sudanese army spokesman said they had no forces in the area.
The large and popular SLA Unity have not attacked the government for months and have expressed a willingness to attend African Union-U.N. mediated peace talks. They are one of the five main Darfur factions who still oppose the government.
Another faction, the SLA loyal to Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, said Khartoum had bombed their areas near Tawilla in North Darfur on Friday.
“There are losses. Two people were killed and some cattle also died,” Abdallah Harran, an SLA political officer told Reuters from Darfur. Sudan’s army denies bombing, which is banned by the U.N. Security Council.
International experts estimate some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have fled their homes in almost five years of revolt. The fighting began after mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the Darfur region.
Washington calls the violence genocide, a term Khartoum rejects, saying Western media have exaggerated the conflict. European governments are reluctant to use the term.
While large-scale fighting has ended in Darfur, sporadic clashes continue and an atmosphere of anarchy has rendered many roads unsafe due to attacks from marauding armed looters. The world’s largest humanitarian operation is forced to travel mostly by air in the vast region, which is the size of France.
The splintering of rebel groups and the switching of sides by Arab tribes once loyal to the government have added to the collapse of law and order.
On Saturday another Arab faction said it had joined forces with the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) — militarily the most powerful group on the ground in Darfur.
The Sudanese Revolutionary Front, led by Babiker Abakr Hassan Hamadein, said it had added 500 soldiers to JEM’s ranks and had thousands of others in other Arab areas of Darfur.