By Amil Khan
KHARTOUM, July 25 (Reuters) - Sudanese troops and helicopters killed seven civilians and wounded about 10 in attacks on villages in the western Darfur region, the rebel commander of the area told Reuters on Monday.
A Sudanese official who did not want to give his name said the attacks were aimed at rebel bases not civilians and the only casualties were rebel fighters.
An official from the African Union, which is monitoring a shaky ceasefire in the area, said a team had been sent to investigate but had not yet reported back.
Tens of thousands have been killed and some 2 million driven from their homes since rebels launched an uprising in early 2003, accusing the government of neglecting their region and arming militias to burn and loot villages. The government denies the charge.
The attacks took place at two separate sites along the road between Nyala and al-Fasher on Sunday, rebel commanders said.
"They (Sudanese forces) killed three civilians in Abu Hamra and four in Sheng al-Tobei," said Adam Yacoub, the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) commander of the area.
"About 10 people were wounded in total," he added.
The Sudanese official, who cast doubt on the details given by the rebels, said the attack came as a response to an assault on an unarmed government convoy on Saturday in the same area.
"The armed forces attacked two rebel camps after the attack on our unarmed convoy ... All those who died in the attacks were rebels," the official said.
RICE CALLS FOR ACTION
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Sudan last week and told Sudanese officials she wanted to see "actions not words" to quell violence in Darfur.
The government and the two main rebel groups in Darfur signed a declaration in Abuja earlier this month.
The agreement deals with broad-based principles for talks, but leaves the main issues to be discussed in more detail on August 24 when African Union-sponsored negotiations resume.
United Nations officials have said killing in the area had decreased since January.
Government troops attacked the Abu Hamra area on Sunday morning and Sheng al-Tobei area later the same day, the commanders said.
Both areas are south of al-Fasher, capital of Northern Darfur State, said Bosh Shag Umar, another local commander.
Around 40 trucks full of troops and around three helicopters razed three villages to the ground in the Abu Hamra area, around 120 km (75 miles) south of al-Fasher, Umar said.
Between 40 and 42 trucks, without helicopters, attacked Sheng al-Tobei village and 20 tents belonging to families forced out of their homes by earlier fighting, he added.
Umar said the government troops used rocket-propelled grenades in the attack, around 90 km (55 miles) south of al-Fasher.
The government official confirmed there was an attack in Abu Hamra and in an area called Lina but he said there was no attack in Sheng al-Tobei. Although he added Lina was in the same area.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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