Sudan army says 45 rebels killed in Darfur
KHARTOUM, Sudan (AFP) - Sudan's army said it killed 45 rebels who were looting in eastern Darfur on Saturday but the insurgents told a different story, saying they had seized an army compound.
A large force from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attacked Fataha, a trade crossroads in the eastern part of North Darfur state, Sawarmi Khaled Saad, the Sudanese army spokesman, told AFP.
"They looted the market and our troops responded. We killed 45 and destroyed 16 JEM vehicles," he said, adding some soldiers were wounded.
"After that, they withdrew to the west and we are still following them."
Such casualty claims are impossible to verify from a region where access is restricted.
Earlier Saturday, JEM spokesman Gibril Adam Bilal told AFP the rebels had seized an army compound east of the state capital El Fasher.
"Our forces are still inside the SAF compound," he said, adding JEM killed an unknown number of soldiers and took 16 of their vehicles.
The state governor, Osman Kibir, said on state television that rebels "are looting the shops, attacked civilians and took some food and fuel" from Fataha.
"They clashed with a small number of troops from SAF," the Sudanese Armed Forces, he said, adding the number of casualties had not yet been determined.
In April, the head of the African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) expressed concern that the region's rebels were exploiting tensions between Sudan and South Sudan along their disputed frontier.
JEM and other Darfuri rebel factions belong to a "Revolutionary Front" which aims to topple the regime in Khartoum, which they regard as unrepresentative of the country's political, ethnic and religious diversity.
Khartoum alleges that South Sudan backs JEM and other rebels, a charge the Southern government denies and in turn accuses Sudan of supporting insurgents south of the border.
The UN estimates that at least 300,000 people have died as a result of the Darfur conflict, which began in 2003 when JEM and other rebels from non-Arab tribes in Sudan's far west rose up against the Khartoum regime.
In response, the government unleashed state-backed Janjaweed militia in a conflict that shocked the world and led to allegations of genocide. Since then, much of the violence in the vast region has degenerated into banditry.
The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10,000.
Almost two million people are still displaced.