Sudan army, rebels clash in Darfur

KHARTOUM: Sudanese forces clashed with rebels on Wednesday in a key area of the troubled western region of Darfur, rebels and peacekeepers said.

"We have taken Gulu" in Jebel Marra, the fertile plateau in the heart of Darfur, Ibrahim al-Hillu, spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Army faction of Abdel Wahid Nur, told AFP.

Sudanese aircraft had earlier bombed rebel positions in the Jebel Moon and Jebel Marra areas, Hillu said, adding that clashes had caused casualties among civilians as well as rebels and government troops.

"Today, there were clashes between the army and SLA-Abdel Wahid," an official with the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) told AFP but did not confirm if the rebels had taken control of Gulu.

"Some NGOs are on the ground assisting the local population," the official added.

Sudanese warplanes have also bombarded positions of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Jebel Moon over the past few days.

The Darfur conflict that erupted in 2003 initially pitted two rebel groups against the Khartoum government and its Arab militia allies.

But both the rebels and the pro-government militias have since splintered into an array of factions.

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.

Peace talks between Khartoum and rebels in Darfur are due to resume next week in Doha, Qatar.

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, refuses to join the peace process.