Sudan Troops Attacked despite Peace Deal

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The only Darfur rebel group to have signed a peace deal with the Sudanese government on Thursday accused the army of launching a deadly attack which the authorities then lied about.

"Yesterday (Wednesday), Liberation and Justice Movement forces came under attack from SAF (Sudanese Armed Forces) near El Fasher," the rebels' chief Eltigani Seisi said in a statement to reporters.

"Two of our troops were martyred and three were detained."

International peacekeepers in Darfur had warned in October that implementation of the 2011 peace deal between the LJM and the government had hit deadlock, although this is the first SAF-LJM clash reported this year.

It adds to concerns already raised by the African Union-U.N. Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) about worsening violence in part of the far-west region.

Seisi said two LJM vehicles had been located near El Fasher, the North Darfur state capital, for 10 days "and SAF knew very well about that." But the vehicles still came under attack, he said.

Official media then announced the army had killed two members of the Revolutionary Front, an alliance of Sudanese rebels including Darfur's main insurgents who refused to sign the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur.

State news agency SUNA said the army captured two Revolutionary Front vehicles and rockets being prepared for an attack on El Fasher.

"It's a lie. The troops attacked yesterday are LJM troops," said Seisi, who is also effectively Darfur's top official.

He heads the Darfur Regional Authority set up as a type of government body to implement the Doha deal which is backed by the African Union, United Nations and Arab League.

Seisi said the LJM has been in contact with officials to stop the false information, and it has asked UNAMID to investigate the incident.

"If this media campaign doesn't stop it will disturb confidence in the Doha declaration," he said.

The Sudanese government and UNAMID have repeatedly called for non-signatory rebels to join the Doha deal.

Despite the absence of those groups, there was optimism last December that the agreement with the LJM -- an alliance of rebel splinter factions -- would be fully implemented, UNAMID's acting head Aichatou Mindaoudou said in October.

-- 'No progress' --

"Today, we have to note that the process has been very slow" she said at a meeting of a commission tasked with overseeing arms control through the safe storage of the LJM's heavy weapons, the integration of its fighters into Sudan's armed forces, and other measures under a ceasefire.

Mindaoudou said "no progress" had been made towards these goals because the first step, the verification of the LJM's forces and strength, had been "inconclusive."

That impasse would hinder establishment of a secure environment, which is a prerequisite for voluntary return of Darfur's more than one million displaced, and for effective reconstruction, she said.

At the October meeting both the LJM and the government said they were committed to implementing the security arrangements.

The commission said verification must be finished by November 15, but that deadline was not met.

On Thursday, UNAMID said heavy fighting had been reported between the army and other rebels south of El Fasher.

"On 4 December, our peacekeepers observed a heavy exchange of gunfire between government forces and an unknown armed group in the area of Shangil Tobay," Christopher Cycmanick, UNAMID's head of media relations, told AFP.

There have also been reports of air strikes in nearby East Jebel Marra, Cycmanick said.

Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels last month said they attacked a large government convoy traveling north from Shangil Tobay town.

JEM and other ethnic rebels began their uprising against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003.

Though violence is down from its peak, inter-Arab and other conflicts continue along with government-rebel clashes.

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