The independent al-Hayat daily reported on Saturday that about 30 rebels carrying light arms and travelling in two vehicles attacked five villages in the district of Um Kaddadah "in violation of the ceasefire agreement".

That was a reference to the ceasefire deal signed in April by the Sudanese government and rebels of the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement.

The paper added that the rebels burned down two police stations in the area, ransacked a local water-pumping facility, and torched the houses of local officials before fleeing.

The report did not say which of the two main rebel groups was allegedly responsible for the attacks. It was also not immediately clear when the alleged incidents took place.

Both the government and rebels regularly accuse each other of violating the truce.

Fresh peace attempt 

Meanwhile, the African Union special envoy tackling the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region met government officials and rebel leaders in an attempt to break the deadlock in the peace talks, a rebel spokesman said on Saturday.

Hopes are pinned on intervention
by Nigerian President Obasanjo

The three-week-old AU-brokered talks aimed at restoring peace in Darfur were suspended until Tuesday because of differences on the key issue of security and disarmament.

Abd Al-Jabbar Dufa, a spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), told AFP that the AU special envoy, Nigerian General Abd Al-Salam Abu Bakar, had been meeting the two sides before Tuesday's plenary session.

"The special envoy is intensifying efforts to get both the government side and the rebel movements to reach a compromise," Dufa said.

"The envoy stressed the need for us to bring our views together so that we can make progress."

Consultations

AU spokesman Assane Ba said that although formal talks had been suspended, consultations would continue in the next three days.

"The special envoy is intensifying efforts to get both the government side and the rebel movements to reach a compromise"

Abd Al-Jabbar Dufa, spokesman
for Sudan Liberation Movement

He said mediators were looking forward to an intervention by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as AU chairman and host to move the talks forward.

"We hope that the two sides will reach a compromise when they meet with President Obasanjo," he said.

Military conflict between government forces and SLA and JEM rebels erupted in February 2003, amid accusations by the rebels that the government in Khartoum had neglected their region.

According to the United Nations, up to 50,000 people have died in the conflict, more than a million have been displaced from their homes and an estimated 180,000 have been forced to flee into neighbouring Chad.