Sudanese government declares halt to air raids in south

May 24, 2001 (AFP)

The Sudanese government has decided to cease air raids on rebel targets in south Sudan and the Nuba Mountains as of Friday, Information Minister Ghazi Salah Eddin Atabani was quoted as saying Thursday.

Atabani said the decision was taken "in pursuance of the state's set policy for achieving peace and stability, bolstering the reconciliation process and the continued call by the state for a comprehensive ceasefire," SUNA news agency reported.

However, the army reserves its right of "protecting its individuals and supply lines and coping with any aggression aimed at achieving any battlefield gains in manipulation of this decision."

"The government calls upon the other parties for an immediate reponse for boosting the peace process in the country and appeals to the international community to back up the call for a comprehensive ceasefire," SUNA quoted the statement as saying.

In Cairo, meanwhile, the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) claimed Thursday that its forces have killed more than 300 government soldiers in fighting this week in Blue Nile province.

"SPLA forces have repulsed attacks by government forces in the Chali region, downing helicopters, and scattering the government troops after killing more than 300 soldiers," SPLA spokesman Yasser Erman said in a statement faxed from Sudan. The SPLA said the government forces were also driven back at Midle, in the Blime region.

The SPLA claims have not been confirmed by the government, which has been engaged in fighting with the rebels in Blue Nile since March.

Since 1983, Sudan, Africa's largest country, has been wracked by a civil war pitting the Arab Muslim north against the mainly Christian and animist south. The SPLA has been joined by northern opposition groups in a war that has left one million people dead and displaced millions of others.