200 Darfur rebels killed in fresh attack — Sudan army

KHARTOUM (AFP) — The Sudanese army said it killed 200 rebels while repelling an attack in Darfur, the deadliest single military operation reported in the war-torn region since fighting started there four years ago.

The bloodshed came amid intensified efforts to reach an agreement on the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur as Washington warned Khartoum had until year’s end to accept or face coercive action.

In a statement quoted by the state-run SUNA news agency, the army also said that 20 of its troops were wounded during the fighting, which took place in northern Darfur on Wednesday.

The army charged that rebels from the National Redemption Front (NRF) attempted to launch an assault on the town of Kutum.

Government troops repelled the attack near Shak Nakhra, 12 kilometres south of the town, and “killed 200 rebels, including two commanders, destroyed six cannons and 18 vehicles and seizing eight others”, the statement said. If the casualty toll is confirmed, Wednesday’s fighting would be one of the deadliest single incidents reported this year in the troubled region. It was the second time in five days the army said it had repelled a rebel attack, following another less deadly incident reported on December 17. The conflict erupted in February 2003 when ethnic minority rebels complaining of marginalisation launched an uprising, which was fiercely repressed by government troops and allied militias. A peace deal was signed in May between the government and the main rebel faction from the Sudan Liberation Movement, but the two other negotiating factions — including rebels who later formed the NRF — rejected the agreement, which has failed to take hold. According to the United Nations, at least 200,000 people have died from the combined effect of war and famine since fighting erupted almost four years ago in Darfur. Some sources say the toll is much higher, while Sudanese President Omar Bashir — whose regime stands accused of genocide by Washington — put the figure at “barely 9,000”. Fresh violence has erupted in Darfur recently, with African military observers increasingly in the line of fire and aid agencies warning of a deteriorating humanitarian situation.

The latest deaths come as diplomats make last-ditch efforts to convince Khartoum to accept UN peacekeepers who would replace the embattled 7,000-strong African contingent struggling to contain the violence.

The United States has been spearheading efforts to deploy a robust UN force in Darfur, but Bashir has consistently rejected such an option, accusing the West of seeking to invade his country and plunder its resources.

Outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan dispatched an envoy — Mauritanian Undersecretary Ahmadou Ould Abdallah — to Khartoum on Wednesday in a bid to clinch Bashir’s approval for a “hybrid” AU-UN force.

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