Sudan: Up to 250 killed in Darfur tribal clashes - peacekeepers
KHARTOUM, Dec 15 (Reuters) - As many as 250 people have died in separate tribal clashes in remote parts of Sudan's south Darfur region over the last week, peacekeepers said on Monday.
The reports highlighted the growing turmoil in the region where arms flooding in to fuel a five-year conflict between government and rebels have also intensified long-running tribal rivalries.
Many of Darfur's tribal conflicts have their roots in control over grazing land and other traditional rights.
But U.N. sources say tribal relations have been hugely complicated by the Darfur conflict which started in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the western region.
Activists have accused Khartoum of trying to arm groups from some of the tribes involved in the recent fighting, to buy their allegiance, to use them in a counter-insurgency against rebels and to create splits with other groups in a 'divide and rule' strategy.
Joint U.N.-African Union UNAMID peacekeepers reported more than 100 people have died in continuing fighting between two groups from the Gimir tribe, around the village of Saysaban, west of Edd Al Fursan in south Darfur.
The clashes, which started around a week ago, were "reportedly related to a dispute over native administration positions" said a UNAMID spokesman in a statement.
The peacekeeping force added between 70 to 150 deaths had been reported in an attack on the Arab Habbaniya tribe on Thursday.
It said it had received reports up to 500 members of the Arab Fellata and Salamat tribes attacked the Habbaniya village of Wad Hajam, near south Darfur's town of Buram, close to borders with southern Sudan and the Central African Republic.
Around 5,000 were forced to flee as their homes were burned to the groups and six police officers were among the dead, said UNAMID.
"The attack was reportedly conducted in retaliation for an earlier attack by Habbaniya tribe on Tomat village on 4 December 2008, which resulted in the death of approximately 20 people," the UNAMID spokesman added.
The Gimir tribe is not thought to have Arab roots but has many members who see themselves politically aligned with other Arab groups.
Human Rights Watch and other groups have reported Gimir forces have fought alongside Sudanese government troops.
But, in a sign of the growing complexity of the conflict, Sudan expert Alex de Waal in February reported some Gimir militias had also joined forces with Darfur's anti-government rebel Justice and Equality Movement.
International experts say more than five years of fighting in Darfur has killed 200,000 and driven more than 2.5 million from their homes.
Sudan's government denies accusations that its forces and allied militias carried out widespread atrocities in Darfur, including mass killings and rapes. It says 10,000 have died in the fighting and accused western media of exaggerating the conflict.
In September 2006, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported Habbaniya militias killed a large number of civilians in attacks on villages around Buram. The attack appeared "to have been conducted with the knowledge and material support of Government authorities" the report concluded.
But observers say Hammaniya leaders have also resisted government efforts to pull them into its counter-insurgency in the past.
An obscure mostly Arab Darfur rebel group The Democratic Popular Front Army claims to have members of the Habbaniya tribe among its members.