Darfur rebels accuse Khartoum of attacking its forces

Darfur rebels on Thursday accused government troops of attacking their forces close to the Chadian border, saying three civilians were abducted following the raid.African Union forces were also attacked, by unknown armed men. Two soldiers were stabbed and two rifles stolen in the Chadian town of Abeche just over the border, an AU spokesman said.

Around 7,000 AU forces are trying to stem Darfur’s violence which has spilled across the border. But since an AU-mediated peace deal last year, Darfur’s conflict has descended into chaos. “Government forces attacked us on Monday evening near Sirba,” local commander from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) Abdel Majid Duda Nur told Reuters by telephone from the Sudan/Chad border.

“We pushed them back and took two vehicles from them as well as guns. We killed 10 of their soldiers,” he added.

Sudanese army officials were not immediately available to comment.

Nur said militias, mobilised by the government and known locally as Janjaweed, were massing to attack Sirba town.

The three abductees, Adam Ishaq Gremer, Yehia Musa Zakaria and a woman, Fatouma Yagoub Dagash, were fleeing Sirba town in West Darfur towards the state capital Geneina town. “We do not know where they are,” Nur added. Since last year’s deal, signed by only one of three negotiating rebel factions, Darfur insurgents have split more than a dozen times and hijackings of aid convoys in the world’s largest humanitarian operation are an almost daily occurrence.

The AU peacekeepers, who struggle with a lack of equipment, experience and funds, have also come under attack, with at least 20 killed since the mission began in 2004.

On Wednesday, they were attacked again.

“(AU) personnel… were robbed by two men armed with AK47 rifles,” AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni said. “Two military observers were stabbed as they resisted handing over car keys,” he added. The soldiers required stitches for their injuries. “We express our condemnation of this armed robbery and we are sending a team to investigate the incident,” Mezni said.

Khartoum last week agreed to allow a joint AU-UN mission of 20,000-25,000 troops and police to beef up the AU force in Darfur, an arid region the size of France.

Most troops will be African, as will the commander. The United Nations will provide command and control structures. The force hopes to quell the violence which international experts estimate has killed 200,000 and driven 2.5 million from their homes. Khartoum puts the death toll at 9,000. The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for a junior Cabinet minister and militia leader accused of conspiring in war crimes in Sudan’s west.

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