Rebels, Sudanese troops clash in Darfur
KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Darfur rebels clashed with Sudanese government forces in northern Darfur on Thursday, leaving at least five rebels and one soldier dead, the government and rebels said.
The fighting in the Helf area was part of a flare-up in violence over the last few days. The government and rebels exchanged accusations over who started the recent fighting, which erupted just a few hours after the Sudanese government offered a cease-fire to the rebels.
The rebels have dismissed the offer as ploy by the government to help Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir evade international prosecution over allegations of crimes against humanity in Darfur. Instead, they accuse the government of building up its forces on the ground in the vast western Sudanese region.
Military spokesman Osman al-Aghbash denied those accusations and said the rebels are provoking government forces to undermine the cease-fire.
The United Nations and peacekeepers in Darfur have welcomed the cease-fire. On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he took the "troubling reports of aerial bombings" seriously and urged both parties to respect the spirit of the cease-fire.
Suleiman Marajan, a commander with the rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army, said Thursday's clashes between his forces and government troops lasted three hours.
Marajan said four of his fighters and a fifth from another rebel group that took part, SLA-Unity, were killed, and 10 rebels were wounded. He also claimed government planes bombed an empty village, burning it to the ground.
Al-Aghbash described the clashes as an attack on his forces, who repelled the rebels and took two of their vehicles, according to a statement published on the official Sudan News Agency. Thirty rebels and one army soldier were killed in the attack, he said.
The difference in figures could not be reconciled.
About 300,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been forced from their homes in five years of fighting in Darfur.
Associated Press writer Mohamed Osman contributed to this report.