Concern over fresh Darfur fighting

The United States has expressed concern over reports that the Sudanese army launched offensives against rebels in Darfur after signing a peace deal with the main rebel group there last week.

PJ Crowley, a spokesman for the US state department, said on Tuesday that Washington was “extremely concerned” over reports of fighting that “have reportedly caused significant civilian casualties, displacement, and the evacuation of humanitarian organisations”.

He urged Sudan’s government and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) Abdel Wahid faction “to refrain from further violence and to allow the Joint African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur access to Jebel Marra to assess the humanitarian situation and restore stability”.

Abdel Wahid Mohamed al-Nur is the leader of an SLA faction which has a stronghold in the area.

‘Civilians killed’

Hundreds of civilians are feared dead in the fighting, a UN source told the Reuters news agency on Monday.

“We think that we have a mounting number of casualties … The lower estimate is around 140, the higher estimate is closer to 400,” said the source of civilian deaths.

in depth
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Timeline: Darfur crisis
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Drought and conflict in South Sudan
Who are Sudan’s Jem rebels?

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said as many as 40,000 civilians had fled the fighting, most recently around the market town of Deribat.

“For us the important thing now is to get access to the area,” said the source, who said aid workers and UN agencies had been blocked from entering Jabel Marra by the ongoing fighting and the threat of bandit attacks on their staff.

SLA field commander Suleiman Marajan told Reuters that government bombing raids had killed at least 170 civilians around Deribat over the past 10 days and more had died in other areas.

But a Sudan army spokesman denied any fighting in the mountainous Jabel Marra region and accused rebels of attacking local residents.

“There are no clashes between the Sudanese army and the forces of Abdel Wahid’s movement,” he told Reuters.

The reported clashes throughout last week have marred Khartoum’s announcement of an end to war in the region and comes just over a month before national elections.

Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, declared the seven-year war in Darfur over last Wednesday after signing an initial deal with the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), Darfur’s main rebel force.

The deal signed in Qatari capital Doha on February 23 commits Khartoum to reaching a final peace deal with Jem by March 15.

State department spokesman Crowley said the peace deal offered a chance to reduce violence in Darfur but needed to be broadened to include other rebel groups, but Abdel Wahid’s SLA and other rebels have rejected the deal, demanding security on the ground before talks.

[original]

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