NAIROBI, 26 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - The recent outbreak of violence in the western Sudanese region of Darfur could threaten ongoing efforts to bring lasting peace to the strife-torn region, the UN warned on Tuesday.
"The violence is a matter of serious concern to us, especially given that we had just reported to the [UN] Security Council that the situation was quiet and both sides seemed to be respecting the ceasefire agreement," Radhia Achouri, spokesperson for the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), said.
Achouri said UNMIS was yet to establish which party started the fighting. The mission, she added, had however learnt that the fighting involved Sudanese government forces and rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).
Other reports gave conflicting accounts of the clashes that occured on Friday and Saturday.
The official Sudanese news agency said a group of Darfur rebels had attacked a convoy of civilian vehicles guarded by the armed forces on the road between Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, and El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur.
The rebels, the agency reported, had killed three government military personnel. It quoted the army spokesman, Gen Abass Abdul Rahaman al Khalifa, as saying the rebels had also burned down some villages.
The SLA rebels, for their part, accused the government of using helicopters in an attack along the Nyala-El Fasher road, international news agencies reported. The helicopters reportedly hit villages, killing seven civilians.
The clashes took place at a time the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Sudan, Jan Pronk, had reported to the Security Council that militia attacks on villages in Darfur had decreased and the humanitarian situation in the camps had improved.
The Sudanese government and two Darfur rebel groups -- the SLA and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - on 5 July signed a broad declaration of principles in Abuja, Nigeria. This was intended to form the basis for a comprehensive settlement of the conflict.
Another round of peace talks is scheduled for late August to work out the finer details of the peace settlement.
"In light of the forthcoming Abuja talks, the weekend violence is not a good sign. The talks had gained momentum with the signing of the declaration of principles, but now hopes are shaky," Achouri said.
The war in Darfur, which erupted in February 2003, pits Sudanese government troops and allied Arab militia, known as the Janjawid, against the SLA and JEM which are fighting to end what they claim is the neglect and oppression of the region's inhabitants.
The UN estimates that over a third of the total population - more than 2.5 million people, including nearly 1.9 million internally displaced persons - have been affected by the conflict.
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