KHARTOUM (AFP) – Darfur’s main rebel groups fought alongside each other for the first time in years on Thursday as they clashed with government forces in the western Sudanese region, the rebels said.
“There was fighting today in Dar al-Salam in north Darfur. We defeated government forces, seized weapons, vehicles and captured young soldiers,” Abu Bakr Hamid of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel group told AFP.
Other Darfur rebel factions, including the Sudan Liberation Army of Abdelwahid Nur and the Sudan Liberation Army of Minni Minnawi, fought in the battles together with the JEM — the most armed group in Darfur, he said.
“For the first time, JEM troops fought shoulder to shoulder with forces belonging to Minni Minnawi, Abdelwahid Nur and others in line with the newly formed Alliance of Resistance Forces,” said JEM military spokesman Ali al-Wafi.
The four movements bring together all of the Darfur rebel groups which have opposed the central government in Khartoum since 2003, accusing it of neglecting the development of the vast desert region.
The rebellion in Darfur was grouped into two movements cooperating with each other at the beginning of the conflict, but the veneer of that unity gradually cracked.
“We are talking with all sides now, JEM and SLA-Minnawi,” said Ibrahim al-Hillu, a senior official of Nur’s SLA branch.
“This is the direction we are going… an alliance to fight or to look for peace.”
Hamid said: “Sudanese troops launched air raids and torched houses but we are in control of Dar al-Salam,” adding that “people have been killed and others displaced by the fighting.”
The claim could not be immediately confirmed by the army.
Aid workers in Darfur also reported fighting in Dar al-Salam, although they could not provide any further details.
“UNAMID has received unconfirmed reports of fighting in Dar al-Salam,” Margaret Carey, acting deputy joint special representative of the joint UN-African Union mission, told AFP.
Darfur has been gripped by a civil war since 2003 that has killed 300,000 people and displaced another 2.7 million, according to UN figures. Sudan says 10,000 people have died in the conflict.
The Khartoum government has been trying to secure for months a comprehensive peace agreement with all Darfur rebel groups to no avail.
Minnawi is the only rebel leader to have struck an agreement with Khartoum, but relations between them have soured and the rebels clashed with the army earlier this month.
According to UN officials, the clashes between Minnawi’s supporters and troops have forced the displacement of more than 12,000 people in less than a week.
The latest reported fighting comes as south Sudan gears up for a vote on independence that could split Africa’s largest nation in two.
The January 9 referendum is the key plank of the 2005 peace deal that put an end to two decades of civil war between north and south.