Saturday, May 10, 2008

Heightened attacks in Khartoum

Sudan says rebel attack on Khartoum defeated By Opheera McDoom
5 minutes ago

Darfur rebels fought with Sudanese government troops in a western suburb of the capital on Saturday and said their aim was to take power in Khartoum, but the government said their attack had been defeated.

Heavy gunfire and artillery was heard in Omdurman, across the River Nile from the heart of Khartoum, capital of Africa's biggest country. Helicopters and armored vehicles headed for the fighting and an overnight curfew was declared.

"The main aim of this failed terrorist sabotage attack was to provoke media coverage and let people imagine that they had the ability to enter Khartoum," Mandour al-Mahdi, the political secretary from the dominant ruling National Congress Party told state television.

"Thank God this attempt has been completely defeated. Some high level JEM commanders were killed," he said, referring to the Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels.

It is the first time that fighting has reached the capital in decades of conflict between the traditionally Arab-dominated central government in Khartoum and rebels from peripheral regions that complain of neglect.

The rebels said earlier they had taken control of Omdurman and were now trying to oust President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

"We are now trying to control Khartoum. God willing we will take power, it's just a matter of time," senior JEM commander Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr told Reuters by telephone.

"We have support from inside Khartoum even from within the armed forces."

Sudan's economy, driven by increasing oil production, has grown rapidly since a peace deal between north and south ended civil war in 2005, but that agreement did not cover the conflict that erupted in Darfur five years ago.

International experts estimate some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million made homeless in five years of fighting in Darfur after mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms accusing central government of neglect.

The United States describes the conflict in Darfur as genocide, but Khartoum rejects that term and says only around 10,000 people have been killed. (Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

Copyright © 2008 Reuters Limited.

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