Page last updated at 01:06 GMT, Thursday, 5 February 2009

Sudan army takes key Darfur town

UN/AU peacekeeper in Darfur
UN/AU peacekeepers have refused to leave Muhajiriya

Sudan's army says it has captured a strategic Darfur town after three weeks of clashes with rebels that have left 30 people dead and displaced thousands.

An army spokesman said his forces had entered the town of Muhajiriya and were pursuing fleeing Jem rebels there.

The rebel commander said they had withdrawn voluntarily to spare civilians from government air attacks.

Peacekeepers stayed to help protect the town's 30,000 civilians, many of whom sought shelter at their base.

The UN says at least 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have been displaced since the conflict in Darfur began six years ago.

The rebel Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) seized Muhajiriya three weeks ago, sparking fierce fighting.

ICC decision expected

On Sunday the Sudanese government had asked the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force, Unamid, to leave Muhajiriya, indicating that an attack was imminent. But the peacekeepers refused to go.

Sudan regularly challenges the UN's presence in the country, correspondents say.


Fighting has escalated at a time when the ICC is due to decide whether to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on genocide charges over the Darfur conflict.

Sudan's government said rebels were building up forces in the region for an attack to mark the expected decision.

The UN is worried that there may be reprisals if an arrest warrant is issued, including the possibility that the UN may be ordered out of Sudan.

The UN's top human rights official, Navi Pillay, said about 30 people, including women and children, had been killed in the fighting around Muhajiriya, and some 30,000 forced to flee.

But Unamid spokeswoman Josephine Guerraro said Sudan had not given permission for a separate delegation of peacekeepers to travel to Muhajiriya to assess the damage.

She also said that unidentified aircraft had dropped three bombs on Wednesday less than a mile from the peacekeepers' camp.

The Unamid peacekeeping force remains at only about half its planned strength of 26,000, a year after the UN took joint control of the mission.

The fighting in Darfur began after African groups complaining of discrimination at the hands of Sudan's Arab-dominated government launched a rebellion.

The government admits mobilising "self-defence militias" in response, though it denies links to the Janjaweed, which has been accused of trying to "cleanse" black Africans from large swathes of territory.

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