Darfur fighters take Sudan army base – peacekeepers

Armed raiders using mortars and heavy guns seized a Sudanese army base near the Chad border in Darfur yesterday, the second reportedly taken in just over a week, international peacekeepers say.
Sudan’s army denied the base had been taken, telling state media they had routed rebels who attacked the remote settlement of Umm Baru.
Reuters adds the joint U.N./African Union UNAMID peacekeeping force said it could not confirm the identity of the attackers but suspected the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) that has been active in the area.
“Umm Baru was overrun. It has fallen,” said UNAMID information director Kemal Saiki. “Our own base just a few kilometres away heard the heavy gunfire.” Saiki said the attack started at around 4pm (1300 GMT) and ended around 8.30pm.
Any JEM involvement would heighten already deeply troubled relations between Sudan and Chad, as Khartoum accuses the N’Djamena government of backing the insurgent force.
Sudan’s army spokesman Brigadier Uthman al-Agbash told the state Sudanese Media centre his men had defeated the attackers, who he said were JEM backed by Chadian forces.
“The army inflicted a heavy toll in lives and property and they were chased out of the area,” he was quoted as saying. There was no one immediately available to comment on the fighting from JEM.
Tensions have been building along Sudan’s remote border with Chad for weeks.
The two oil producers have long accused one another of supporting each other’s rebels. Chad earlier this month admitted bombing rebels inside Sudanese territory, while Khartoum says N’Djamena backs JEM, whose leaders have ethnic links with Chadian President Idriss Deby.
JEM said it seized a Sudanese army base at Kornoi, a settlement just 50 km (31 miles) west of Umm Baru, on May 16, along a road that runs towards a crossing point into Chad.
The governor of North Darfur later accused Chad of sending troops to fight alongside JEM during the battle, which he said the Sudanese government forces won.
There have been signs of JEM re-arming and re-grouping in North Darfur in recent weeks — it fought former rebels aligned with Sudan’s government around Umm Baru earlier this month.
JEM, which seeks to control all of Darfur and neighbouring Kordofan, shocked many by attacking Khartoum in May 2008 before being stopped a few kilometres short of the presidential palace.
JEM commander Suleiman Sandal told Reuters earlier yesterday that Sudanese government planes had been bombing around Kornoi and Umm Baru every day since his force’s attack on Kornoi.
 Air attacks in Darfur are banned under UN Security Council resolutions and a series of failed ceasefires, but Khartoum has in the past reserved the right to attack JEM and other rebels who did not sign a 2006 Darfur peace deal.
Sunday’s fighting is the latest in a festering six-year conflict that started when mostly non-Arab rebels in Darfur took up arms against Sudan’s government, accusing it of  neglecting the development of the region.
Estimates of the resulting death toll range from 300 000according to the U.N.’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, to 10 000 according to Khartoum.
In many places, fighting has descended into a free-for-all of tribal clashes and banditry.
Armed men stopped a vehicle carrying Nigerian peacekeepers near El Geneina, capital of west Darfur, on Saturday night, and stole their weapons, phones, radio and transport, the joint UN/African Union force said. No one was injured in the attack.
The UN’s World Food Programme said a contract driver was shot dead by suspected robbers in Al Deain in South Darfur on Tuesday.
In the latest of a series of diplomatic efforts in the region, Qatar’s state minister of foreign affairs, Ahmad Abdullah al-Mahmood, held talks with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir yesterday.
Qatar is already hosting faltering negotiations between JEM and Sudan’s government, due to restart on May 27. Sudanese state media said Mahmood was also planning to visit Chad in a bid “to solve the problems between the two countries”.
The US special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration set off on visits to China, Qatar, the United Kingdom and France on Saturday to build support for peace efforts in Africa’s largest
country, the US embassy in Khartoum said.