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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Former Sudan rebels, militia clash in Darfur town

KHARTOUM, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Sudanese Arab militia fighters clashed with former Darfur rebels in the main town of el-Fasher in Sudan's war-ravaged west, a former rebel official said on Saturday.

A witness reported hearing heavy gunfire from the market area of el-Fasher on Friday night. At least one person was shot dead and another injured, an official from the former rebel Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) said.

"What happened is the Janjaweed militia in el-Fasher clashed with our forces there, and then went to loot the market and shot some people," said Mohamed Bashir, who runs SLM leader Minni Arcua Minnawi's office in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

The SLM signed a peace deal in May with the government. Other rebel factions have refused to sign the accord, which a top U.N. envoy has described as comatose.

A Sudanese resident of el-Fasher, who asked to remain unnamed, said: "Heavy shooting could be heard from the area of the market in el-Fasher town last night. Initial reports were that two people had been shot."

A Sudanese army spokesman said he had no information about any fighting in el-Fasher, but said there had been complaints that former SLM rebels were still armed there.

"There are many complaints in el-Fasher that the SLM are still carrying their weapons inside the town. According to the peace deal, the SLM should not carry arms in the town, and they should hand these weapons in," the spokesman said.

The fighting coincided with intense international pressure on Sudan to allow about 20,000 U.N. troops to replace a much smaller ill-equipped African Union force that has been unable to stem violence in Darfur.

Some 200,000 people have been killed and up to 2.5 million displaced since violence flared in west Sudan in 2003 in fighting between Darfur rebel groups, government forces and militias.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has rejected a U.N. presence, saying it would amount to a new form of colonialism.

Analysts say unless the Darfur conflict is contained it could spill over borders and ignite a regional crisis. The area most immediately at risk is along Sudan's long and porous border with Chad.

The Sudanese army spokesman on Saturday accused the Chadian army of supporting Sudanese rebels opposed to the Darfur peace agreement in clashes with government troops near Sudan's border with Chad a week ago.

That fighting had sent scores of injured fighters from both sides streaming into Chad for medical treatment.

"The Chadian army gave full support to the Darfur rebels in the Kari Yari attack. They provided weapons by planes, gave them 21 land cruiser vehicles, and supported the rebels with some 41 Chadian army vehicles carrying soldiers," the spokesman said.

He added that rebels had come from inside Chadian territory to attack an army position, and the army had chased them back into Chad.

Both sides had blamed each other for initiating last week's hostilities, in which the rebels said they had captured a Sudanese army officer. Sudan has not confirmed that, and there were no confirmed reports on the total casualty figures.

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