, KHARTOUM, September 7 – Dozens of Darfur rebels and Sudanese government soldiers have been killed in fierce clashes in North Darfur state, fighters from the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) said on Sunday.
Fighting was continuing Sunday in the nearby Jebel Marra region of West Darfur following government attacks the previous day backed by four helicopters and two Antonov aircraft, a rebel commander said.
"They are attacking our positions now as I speak," said Salah Bob, a field commander from the SLA faction headed by exiled leader Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur, speaking from Kejadam in eastern Jebel Marra.
"They are government soldiers, and we are fighting back," he added.
Rebels claimed government and militia forces attacked their positions on Saturday around the north Darfur towns of Disa, Birmaza and Tawila, causing heavy casualties.
"We have seen 63 bodies, they are both SLA and government (soldiers)" said Ibrahim al-Hillo, a commander from the same SLA faction, speaking from Darfur.
"It is heavy, there are more than 20 civilians killed — but relatives who are trying to contact their family can’t reach them, so it may be more," he added.
"The government (forces) are still in the area, we cannot check that yet."
There was no immediate response from the military. However, in comments made to Sudanese media on Sunday, an army spokesman said there were no current military operations.
He said that government troops were guarding roads against attacks by rebels.
A spokesman for the joint African Union-UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said they had no reports of fresh attacks but were investigating the claims.
Last month rebels accused the government of launching a massive attack to flush them out from stronghold positions.
Sudan has warned that a request from the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor for an arrest warrant against President Omar al-Beshir over alleged crimes and genocide in Darfur could embolden rebels.
According to the United Nations, up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have fled their homes since the conflict erupted in February 2003. Sudan says 10,000 have been killed.
The war began when African ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-led Khartoum regime and state-backed Arab militias, fighting for resources and power in one of the most remote and deprived places on earth.
The conflict has since deteriorated with the emergence of a multiplying array of rebel groups, breakaway militia groups and bandits.