Sudan

Sudan official vows army will retake rebel town

By Amil Khan

KHARTOUM, Sept 21 (Reuters) - A Sudanese military official vowed on Wednesday that Sudan's armed forces would recapture a town seized by one of the two main rebel groups in the Darfur region.

"Right now, the town is still under rebel control," the official told Reuters. "Government forces will respond and expel them from the town," he added without giving details.

Aid officials say further military action in the area will escalate tension and threaten about 33,000 refugees living in the town who depend on assistance.

The Sudanese official previously told Reuters the rebels had captured Sheiria, about 70 km (45 miles) northeast of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, in a surprise attack.

The Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) said in a statement on Tuesday that they had captured the town, killing more than 80 government soldiers.

The statement, signed by spokesman Mahjoub Hussein, said the rebels acted in response to government intrusions into rebel-held territory.

The Sudanese official said the fighters who captured Sheiria could have come from a breakaway faction of the SLA/M trying to disrupt peace talks taking place in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

The SLA/M and the second main group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), launched a rebellion against the government in early 2003 complaining of neglect and marginalisation.

Fighting between the government and the rebels resumed during preparations for the sixth round of Darfur peace talks, which started in Abuja on Sept. 15.

The fighting has caused tens of thousands of deaths and driven about 2 million people from their homes since the start of the rebellion. Aid officials have said banditry has increased in the area and is disrupting aid deliveries.

The rebels say Khartoum has armed militias drawn from nomadic communities and the militias have burnt and looted farming villages.

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