Sudanese army says troops drove rebels from southern Darfur town, inflicted heavy losses
KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudanese soldiers inflicted “heavy casualties” in driving off rebels who overran a town in the troubled Darfur region, the military said Wednesday.A United Nations official, George Somerwill, said the world body also heard from the region that Sudan Liberation Army fighters retreated late Tuesday from the area around Sheiria, a town of 33,000 people in southern Darfur.Several hundred rebels captured the town Monday, violating a truce reached in December for Sudan’s vast western region, where ethnic fighting that broke out in early 2003 has caused widespread hunger and emptied villages.The army spokesman, Lt. Gen. Abass Abdul Rahaman Khalifa, said government soldiers defeated SLA fighters in a battle late Tuesday at Khazan Jadeed, about 6 miles east of Sheiria.”The armed forces repulsed the attack of the aggressor forces, inflicted heavy casualties on them, and forced them to retreat and flee away,” Khalifa told the official SUNA news agency.He did not give any details how many rebels were killed or wounded, nor did he say whether there were any Sudanese military casualties.A spokesman for the 53-nation African Union, Jean Baptiste Natama, said the SLA attack on Sheiria threatened progress at peace talks in Nigeria’s capital to end the Darfur conflict. The war has killed more than 180,000 people and chased 2 million from their homes.”We condemned the SLA for carrying out the attack, especially at this point in time when the parties are negotiating in Abuja and making progress in issues such as wealth and power sharing,” Natama told The Associated Press. “Of course this is a cease-fire violation.”Two main rebel groups based in Darfur’s settled farming tribes took up arms in February 2003 over what they considered the Arab-dominated national government’s neglect and discrimination in favor of nomadic Arab herdsmen.U.N. investigators accused government-backed Arab militiamen, known as Janjaweed, of unleashing a campaign of murder, rape and arson on the ethnic Africans in farming towns.Natama said the SLA’s capture of Sheiria came after two weeks of increasing tensions in southern Darfur and was an apparent bid by rebels to prevent Arab nomads moving through the area.The Sudanese government denounced the SLA and urged the United Nations to “shoulder its responsibility to avert an escalation of the situation,” SUNA said.Darfur is just one of several restive regions troubling Sudan.At U.N. headquarters in New York, the top U.N. envoy for Sudan gave an unusually sobering assessment of the shattered country Wednesday, warning that violence is on the rise and nations are not making good on promises to provide peacekeepers and cash.Jan Pronk said U.N. humanitarian programs have gotten only about half the planned $1.9 billion, endangering a power-sharing deal signed in January between Sudan’s government and southern rebels who fought a 21-year war.He said the south also is suffering from repeated attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group opposing the government in neighboring Uganda.”I know how difficult it is nowadays, but this is essential because we have to meet the expectations beyond peace,” Pronk said.As for Darfur, he said the U.N. Security Council must demand that a peace deal be concluded by the end of the year.”Parties are sometimes talking, and a day after, they’re shooting,” he said. “That is not the way to do it.”Vail, Colorado
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