KHARTOUM, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Sudan's military said on Sunday it had clashed with armed bandits in Darfur, but a senior official said the fighting did not amount to a breach of a ceasefire announced last week.
Rebel groups accused the army of bombing territory they controlled near Kurbia in north Darfur on Friday, two days after Sudan's president announced an "immediate and unconditional" ceasefire in the western region.
The charges came as Khartoum steps up diplomatic efforts to block moves by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to indict President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide in Darfur.
International experts say 200,000 have died and more than 2.5 million been driven from their homes since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003, accusing it of neglecting Darfur. Khartoum accuses the media of exaggerating the conflict as part of a western conspiracy against Sudan.
A spokesman for Sudan's armed forces initially denied any bombing had taken place in north Darfur on Friday and said government troops had not carried out manoeuvres.
But in a statement released on a state-aligned website on Sunday, the army said bandits had attacked a convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid near Kurbia.
"The Sudanese army clashed with the bandit group to protect this convoy," said spokesman Brigadier Uthman al-Agbash. He added that the bandits had escaped.
Darfur's rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said the government had tried to bomb insurgent positions. It accused Khartoum of launching three more assaults on its fighters in north Darfur on Saturday.
"This was not a clash with bandits. There is a wide-ranging assault against us going on," the London-based chairman of JEM's legislative council Al-Tahir al-Feki told Reuters.
It was not possible to verify the claims of fresh fighting on Saturday independently and Sudan's armed forces were not available for comment.
KHARTOUM SAYS NO CEASEFIRE BREACH
A senior official with Sudan's dominant National Congress Party told reporters Friday's fighting did not amount to a breach of the ceasefire as the agreement did not cover bands of armed robbers who have proliferated in lawless Darfur during its near six-year conflict.
The official said the army had suspended all hostilities with rebel movements from Wednesday, when Bashir announced the ceasefire.
But he warned it would fall apart if the rebels refused to lay down their arms and attacked Sudanese troops -- or if international organisations failed to help Sudan monitor the ceasefire.
"The ceasefire will not be successful unless UNAMID (an undermanned force of joint U.N.-African Union peacekeepers) go on the ground, fix the location of the armed forces and start the process. The ceasefire is not just a decision, it is a process," he told reporters.
JEM and other rebel groups have already rejected the ceasefire and vowed to fight on.
Khartoum mobilised troops and mostly-Arab militias in 2003 to quash the revolt, sparking a conflict which Washington has called genocide.
The Sudanese government, which says 10,000 people have died in the conflict, denies committing genocide and accuses western media of exaggerating the situation.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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