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Last Updated: Monday, 9 February, 2004, 17:56 GMT
Sudan's western rebels 'crushed'
Sudan rebels
Rebels say Darfur is ignored by the government
Rebels fighting in western Sudan have been defeated, President Omar al-Bashir has said.

A military communique put out by his office said the state of Darfur was entirely in government hands, although this was denied by rebels.

The president announced an amnesty and called on the rebels to participate in a conference to develop the region.

A year of fighting has led some 800,000 people to flee. Some say government forces are chasing out non-Arabs.

Rural rebels

The army was now in control of "all theatres of operations," Mr Bashir said.

"I announce a general amnesty for all those who carried arms. They must surrender the arms to the nearest military or police unit within a month from today."

The chairman of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement told the BBC that the government's claims were untrue: he said towns and villages had been destroyed, but rural areas were in rebel hands.

Abd el-Wahad Ahmed turned down the suggestion of a conference, saying his movement would only participate in internationally mediated talks.

The fighting in Darfur has escalated as the government and rebels in the south have neared a peace deal.

Late last month, the army said it had taken control of the main town of Tine, which straddles the Sudan-Chad border.

'Thousands of refugees'

Over the weekend, there was a new surge of thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting in western Sudan for the border with Chad.

They are camping out in the open, sheltering behind bushes from the harsh desert wind.

Some came with herds of goats and camels, many with almost nothing.

Many say their villages were first bombed by government planes and then attacked by Arab militias on horseback.

They walked for days, braving the sandstorms and freezing nights to escape from Sudan.

For the injured, the only medical facilities in the area come from a Belgian emergency team.

"The situation is dramatic, catastrophic," the team's surgeon said. "We do not have the most basic things - enough water, electricity, hygiene."

The Belgians have set up a feeding programme for the most malnourished children, but many thousands of families remain far from such help, scattered across a vast, inaccessible region.

The BBC's Andrew Harding on Chad's border with Sudan says there is strong evidence that Sudan's government is behind the Arab militias, using them to crush a local rebellion in Darfur in brutal style.

This region is so isolated that the full scale of the conflict is hard to gauge.

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