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New Darfur Clashes As US Mounts Peace Drive

11/22/2005 9:10am

Business Day (Johannesburg)

By Business Day Reporter with Reuters

The first batch of Canadian armoured personnel carriers have arrived in Darfur, Sudan, to bolster the African Union (AU) mission in the troubled province.

Canada handed the AU three armoured personnel carriers, the first batch of 105 such vehicles Canada has pledged after months of delays attributed to the Sudanese government's reluctance to boost the ability of international forces to protect civilians.

The government has been accused by the United Nations and the AU of backing the Janjaweed Arab militia, blamed for atrocities in Darfur.

The AU's mandate in Sudan is to keep a fragile cease-fire agreement the government has signed with the Darfur rebels in western Sudan.

Meanwhile, Sudanese troops and rebels clashed in the western Darfur region on Saturday and a rebel group said 14 civilians and eight insurgents had been killed in the past 48 hours.

A senior US envoy, Jendayi Frazer, made an unannounced visit to Darfur in a peace drive, meeting two leaders of the main rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), who have been squabbling over the SLA's presidency.

Sudanese forces said they had attacked Chadian rebels who had crossed the border to the mountainous Jabel Moun area, but one Darfur rebel group said this was untrue and that the government was attacking its bases.

The AU confirmed there had been heavy fighting in the area and reported casualties but did not have any figures.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since a revolt in Darfur began in early 2003.

Non-Arab rebels took up arms because they said the central government monopolised wealth and power. The UN says Khartoum then armed Arab militias who stand accused of a campaign of killing, rape and looting that forced more than 2-million to flee their homes.

The US has called the violence genocide, a charge Khartoum denies.

Frazer's visit was designed to convince the two SLA leaders to form a joint position and attend AU-sponsored peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

The peace talks were due to start today, but AU sources have said they were likely to be delayed for logistical reasons.

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