The main rebel movement in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region threatened to quit peace talks with the government, alleging fresh attacks on its positions.
It was the latest setback in the effort to bring calm to a region where war has sparked one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed – many from hunger and disease that have taken hold amid the chaos – and more than two million others have been displaced from their homes since fighting broke out more than two years ago.
Mahgoub Hussein, spokesman for the Sudanese Liberation Army, said yesterday that ground attacks that morning by Sudanese troops backed by allied militia forces targeted its strongholds at Manywashi in the west of Darfur and Teioshya in the east.
“Sudan is playing games, attacking our people and coming here for peace talks,” Hussein said in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, where the talks are being hosted. “If the attacks continue, we’ll not continue the talks.”
A spokesman for the African Union hosting the talks, Nourddine Mezni, said the bloc’s military monitors in Darfur have not confirmed any fresh attacks but said the rebels’ claims will be investigated.
Government officials weren’t immediately available for comment. Four previous rounds of talks failed to end the two-year conflict that has led to at least 180,000 deaths and forced around two million people from their homes.
Since peace talks resumed on June 10 after a six-month break, negotiators from the 53-nation AU have largely been holding consultations with the different parties on the terms for face-to-face talks.
Yesterday’s threat spells new difficulties for mediators already battling against the smaller rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, which objects to the presence of Chadian representatives at the talks.
The smaller rebel movement is accusing Sudan’s western neighbour of supporting Sudan’s army against the rebel group’s forces.
In turn, Sudan’s delegation wants observers from Eritrea to quit the talks and is accusing the country’s government of being the main supporter of the Darfur rebels.
On Monday, Sudan said its forces had beaten off a rebel attack in eastern Sudan in which Justice and Equality Movement insurgents from Darfur, which is in western Sudan, took part.
The United Nations mission in Sudan said it had received reports of a rebel attack, and there were reportedly casualties on both sides.
Darfur’s rebellion was launched in February 2003 by predominantly ethnic Africans after what they say were decades of marginalisation and neglect by Sudan’s Arab-dominated Khartoum government.