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Darfur rebels and army clash, peace hopes fade

20/05/2010 - 16:19

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Darfur rebels fought government troops on Thursday in the east of the troubled region, the latest in a wave of clashes which has seen hopes of reviving a faltering peace process fade away.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's counter-insurgency campaign in Sudan's west sparked one of the world's worst humanitarian crises and earned him an arrest warrant for war crimes from the International Criminal Court.

Darfur rebel divisions and clashes have been the main obstacles to Qatar-hosted peace talks. The militarily powerful rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has warned it would attack the government "anywhere" after suspending its participation in the talks, citing bombardment of its areas.

"Yesterday (Wednesday) JEM went into Um Sa'ouna village and began to use the civilians as human shields," Sudan's army spokesman said. "We have surrounded the roads leading out of the village and have heavy clashes with anyone who comes out," he said, adding the standoff was ongoing.

The spokesman said the army was not fighting inside Um Sa'ouna village in the east of South Darfur state, because it was worried about civilian casualties.

JEM said the army had been routed. "Their troops fled to Ed-Daeen and She'aria," said JEM commander Suleiman Sandal, referring to two nearby towns. He said JEM had lost four soldiers and had killed more than 200 government soldiers.

There was no independent version of events.

JOURNALISTS DELIVER MESSAGE

Also on Thursday, about 50 Sudanese journalists delivered a memorandum to government authorities condemning the closure, seizure of assets and the arrest of four employees of the opposition al-Rai al-Shaab paper in a midnight raid on Saturday.

Sudanese authorities also censored two papers on Wednesday night, which the journalists criticised as a step backwards in developing democracy.

One security source said the papers had been inciting people against the state.

Sudan held its first open elections in 24 years in April, and lifted direct censorship of the papers last year.

But journalists said restrictions continued in other ways like withdrawing government company advertising revenues, essential for papers to survive.

"This means papers are forced to self censor and that is more dangerous than the direct censorship," said Yasir Haroun from the English-language Sudan Tribune daily.

The Ajras al-Huriya daily is also facing five court cases raised by the police, army and security forces.

The journalists said if their four colleagues from al-Rai al-Shaab were not charged or released they would begin regular protests and lobbying against the authorities.

Al-Rai al-Shaab is the mouthpiece of opposition Islamist Hassan al-Turabi's Popular Congress Party. Turabi was also arrested on Saturday but the party said none of the five has been charged yet.

(Reporting by Opheera McDoom)

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