HUNDREDS of refugees have fled after reports of a build-up of Sudanese army and rebel fighters near a strategic town in Darfur, peacekeepers said on Wednesday.
Separately, long running tribal clashes in the remote western region have killed 107 people since March, the joint UN/African Union UNAMID peacekeeping mission said.
The security situation has deteriorated in the strife-torn territory after peace talks between the government and rebels stalled in February.
UNAMID said it had reports government troops and forces from the insurgent Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) had been massing in North Darfur state’s Shangil Tobay area.
“Approximately 70% of (people) living in the New Shangil Tobay Camp have left fearing clashes,” it said in a statement. UNAMID said 2 000 people lived in the camp.
JEM was one of two rebel forces that launched a revolt against Sudan’s government in 2003, accusing it of starving Darfur of funding and marginalising its population.
Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who mobilised militias to crush the uprising, is facing International Criminal Court (ICC) charges of masterminding war crimes in the region.
The ICC case and the festering conflict are among the biggest obstacles to Sudan’s efforts to end years of isolation from the West — Washington imposed harsh economic sanctions on the oil producing country partly because of its Darfur record.
Two international sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters there were signs JEM was moving south east through Darfur toward the neighboring region of South Kordofan, where it has attacked oilfields in the past.
Shangil Tobay is a settlement 70km south of the capital of North Darfur, El Fasher, a government stronghold and hub for aid workers and peacekeepers. The area sits between JEM’s current stronghold in West Darfur and South Kordofan.
JEM official Al-Tahir al-Feki confirmed it had troops around Shangil Tobay and South Kordofan but said they were on “administrative” missions, holding talks with local leaders.
No one was immediately available for comment from Sudan’s army but this week it accused JEM of attacking villages in West and North Darfur states to expand its territory.
The two sides signed a ceasefire and initial peace deal in February but talks soon reached stalemate.
UNAMID said fighting broke out between the rival Misseriya and Rizeigat Nawaiba tribes in West Darfur in March.
The UN said it appeared a violent incident had sparked a cycle of revenge attacks.
“It is spiraling retribution over a killing… the retaliation just cycles out of control,” said Samuel Hendricks, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
He said rivalries had been exacerbated by competition for pasture, water and other resources.
An initial settlement broke down last week when new fighting broke out in the Mukjar region of West Darfur, said UNAMID.
“It is estimated that since March, the clashes have claimed the lives of 107 people on both sides and have caused many more to flee their homes,” it added. –– Reuters.