KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Rebel fighters failed to capture a Sudanese army base in Darfur, International peacekeepers said Monday, contradicting earlier reports of an insurgent victory.
The joint U.N./African Union UNAMID peacekeeping force originally said raiders had overrun the army base in the settlement of Umm Baru, close to the Chadian border in north Darfur Sunday night.
But UNAMID Information Director Kemal Saiki said Monday the reports from peacekeepers there had been confused.
“They did make a push for it, but they did not overrun the post. Put it down to the fog of war,” Saiki said.
Sudan’s army spokesman Brigadier Uthman al-Agbash told state media that government soldiers had routed the rebel forces and 43 fighters from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) had been killed and 54 injured.
JEM said it attacked the base Sunday night and gave varying accounts of the fighting. Senior commander Suleiman Sandal insisted JEM was still largely in control of the town on Monday morning and had sent out units to confront an expected government counter-attack from the south and east.
JEM humanitarian chief Suleiman Jamous told Reuters the rebel forces had pulled out of the town after government planes started bombing the area.
“We wanted to save the people of Umm Baru from the bombing. We pulled out after we achieved what we set out to achieve, which was to attack the base and limit the soldiers’ ability to harass civilians,” Jamous said.
Darfur’s six-year conflict flared when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Sudan’s government, accusing it of neglecting the development of the region.
Estimates of the resulting death toll range from 10,000 according to Khartoum, to 300,000 according to the U.N.’s Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.
Tensions have been building along Sudan’s remote border with Chad for weeks. The two oil producers have long accused one another of supporting each other’s rebels.
A bomb was left outside a Khartoum office of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) Monday but failed to explode, the former rebel group said.
The SPLM, which fought for two decades in southern Sudan against Khartoum’s rule but is now a junior partner in the government, said the bomb was at an office where senior SPLM official Yasir Arman is based.
A pro-government paper recently called for the killing of Arman over comments he had made objecting to the application of Islamic sharia law to non-Muslims. The paper was briefly suspended from publication.
The north-south conflict, which is separate from the fighting in Darfur, ended in a 2005 peace deal which set up a north-south coalition government. But tensions have led to continuing clashes between northern and southern forces.
A national election due in early 2010 and a referendum on southern independence in 2011 are crucial to the success of the fragile north-south peace deal.
Reporting by Andrew Heavens; writing by Aziz El-Kaissouni and Alastair Sharp; editing by Robert Woodward