Darfur rebels clash with Sudan army
JEM rebels for the first time fight shoulder to shoulder with other Darfur rebel groups against government troops.
Last Modified: 24 Dec 2010 08:12 GMT
Rebels from the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) signed a peace agreement with the Sundanese government in 2006 [EPA]

Darfur rebels clashed with Sudanese government troops, three days after announcing they had resumed ceasefire negotiations, rebel sources told Al Jazeera.

Thursday's fighting was the latest setback for international mediators who have struggled to secure any lasting accord in more than seven years of fighting.

A JEM spokesman in Doha, Qatar confirmed the fighting reports and said they captured "many" government soldiers and seized vehicles during the clashes.

The rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said government forces attacked them and fighters from other rebel forces near Dar al Salaam, 56km south of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, which is also used as a headquarters by international peacekeepers.

Ahmed Tugo, the Justice and Equality Movement's chief negotiator who is involved in peace talks with Sudan in Doha, told Al Jazeera that the Sudanese army started the new clashes.

"What happened is that the government of Sudan moved troops into the area in order to kill more people and destroy more houses. On that basis we decided to move in and to stop what is going on. And on that basis we managed to defeat the government."

No one from Sudan's army was immediately available for comment.

JEM released a statement quoting one of its commanders, Ali Alwafi, saying the rebels had entered Dar al Salaam during the fighting.

JEM fighters said government forces attacked the group near Dar al Salaam, 56km south of El Fasher

"For the first time, JEM troops fought shoulder to shoulder with forces belonging to Minni Minawi, Abdel Wahed Nur and others," the statement said.

The statement refers to two factions of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement (SLA), loyal to Minni Arcua Minnawi and Abdel Wahed Mohamed al-Nur.

Talk of new alliance

Al Jazeera's Mohamed Val, reporting from Khartoum, said it was the first time since 2004 that three major factions in Darfur fought side by side against the Sudanese army.

"It is a very important development. The question is, if they are also ready to sit around the same table for talks with the government - are they also going to co-ordinate their diplomacy?"

Nur, who has spent many years exiled in Paris, has boycotted all peace negotiations. One of Nur's senior aides, Ibrahim al-Helwu, confirmed the fighting and said the factions were considering forming an alliance.

Minnawi was the only rebel leader to sign a 2006 peace deal with Khartoum. Sudan's army declared him a military target earlier this month, accusing him of breaking a ceasefire and plotting to join other rebels.

UNAMID said Sudan's army attacked Minnawi's forces several times over the past two weeks.

JEM announced it restarted ceasefire talks with Sudan's government on Monday seven months after it walked out of the region's tortuous peace process, hosted by Qatar in Doha.

Peace talks have coincided with a surge of fighting in the past in Darfur, as both sides try to demonstrate their strength and maximise territorial gains ahead of settlements.

JEM and the SLM launched the rebellion in 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the arid region.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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