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Wednesday, 8 November, 2000, 13:40 GMT
Sudanese rebels claim Kassala
Map showing Kassala
Heavy fighting has been reported in Sudan between government troops and rebel forces for control of the key town of Kassala on the border with Eritrea.

A spokesman for the Sudan National Democratic Alliance (NDA) said its forces had captured the town, which is 400 km east of the capital Khartoum, after a day of heavy fighting.

A Sudanese army statement spoke of fighting still going on.

The NDA links northern Muslim opposition groups with the main Sudanese rebels, the SPLA, who have been fighting for almost twenty years for autonomy for the mainly Christian and animist south.

Strategic town

Rebels have never before controlled Kassala, which lies on the main road between Khartoum and Port Sudan.

All Sudan's imports and exports pass along that road.

John Garang
John Garang's SPLA is a member of the NDA
The NDA spokesman Yasir Arman told the Reuters news agency by telephone from the Eritrean capital Asmara that rebels overran Kassala before dawn.

"I don't have many details but we are now in full control of the town," he said.

He said after fighting which involved "thousands of troops" the NDA controlled seven government garrisons including the main military command post in the town.

"We have had a good reception and the people are giving our soldiers food and water," he added.

Government denial

The Sudanese Armed Forces General Command issued a statement saying its troops, together with pro-government militia, had driven back rebel forces from the north-eastern part of Kassala town.

The statement said forces were chasing fleeing rebels and civilians of the town were supporting government troops.

SPLA fighters
Fighting has continued for more than 17 years
The government retook the town of Hamesh Koreb in northern Kassala province from the NDA at the end of October as part of an effort to drive the rebels from their positions in the region.

Eritrea has been trying to broker a peace agreement between the Khartoum government and opposition groups based in Eritrea and Egypt.

Sudan and Eritrea resumed diplomatic ties earlier this year after a break of six years amid accusations that each supported the other's rebel movements.

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See also:

06 May 00 | Africa
Analysis: Power struggle in Sudan
26 Nov 99 | Africa
Sudan peace deal struck
17 Jan 00 | Africa
Sudan's decades of war
19 Jul 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Sudan
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