KHARTOUM (AFP) – – Sudanese warplanes and artillery pounded insurgents in the troubled western region of Darfur on Saturday, said a rebel spokesman whose group has refused to attend upcoming peace talks in Qatar.
“The army attacked our positions,” said Ibrahim al-Hillu, a commander and spokesman of a Sudan Liberation Army faction headed by exile rebel leader Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur.
“They have 200 vehicles, Antonov planes and heavy artillery,” Hillu told AFP, adding that the confrontations lasted until sunset.
The reported attacks were in the northwest of Kutum, a sector of north Darfur that is 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the border with Chad and controlled by Hillu’s rebel faction.
He said government forces were attacking from three directions — Kutum, Abdel Shakur and Al-Dor — and concentrating fire on the village of Frog, which hosts a popular open-air market on Saturdays.
There was no immediate confirmation of the attack from the government, and UN peacekeepers said they were investigating the report.
“We are trying to confirm this information,” Noureddin Mezni, spokesman for the UNAMID UN-African Union peacekeepers, told AFP.
Local sources said that clashes last week between the military and the same rebels in Jebel Marra, a fertile plain in central Darfur, forced humanitarian workers to evacuate.
SLA-Abdel Wahid is one of the most powerful factions within the deeply divided Darfur rebellion. The conflict that erupted in 2003 initially pitted two rebel groups against the government and its Arab militia allies.
Both the rebels and the pro-government militias have since splintered into an array of factions, including the also powerful Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which is attending next week’s peace talks in the Qatari capital Doha.
The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died from the combined effects of war, famine and disease in Darfur, and that another 2.7 million have fled their homes.
The government puts the Darfur death toll at 10,000 people.
The JEM had signed a confidence-building agreement in February last year with the aim of holding an eventual peace conference on Darfur.
Libya and the United States have each managed to unite several small Darfur rebel groups in a bid to facilitate a resolution to the conflict.
But SLA leader Abdel Wahid Nur, who lives in exile in Paris, has refused to join the peace process.