Sudan rebels say government breaking Nuba truce

Jan 24 (Reuters)

Sudan's main rebel group said on Thursday the government had violated a two-day-old ceasefire for the central Nuba mountains that was intended to facilitate delivery of aid to the region.

There was no independent confirmation of the claim and no immediate comment from the government in Khartoum.

The government and representatives of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement -- the political wing of the main guerrilla group -- agreed last week to stop fighting in the Nuba region, which is facing a humanitarian crisis as a result of Sudan's 18-year-old civil war.

On Wednesday, both rebels and government said they were sticking to the deal, which began at noon on Tuesday.

But in a statement issued in Nairobi on Thursday, Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) spokesman Samson Kwaje said government forces had launched an attack on Wednesday afternoon. "Government forces moved from their designated base at Rofo towards the SPLA garrison of Tulushi and attacked our forces with the purpose of capturing it," the statement said.

"After fierce fighting the SPLA forces repulsed the enemy with serious casualties, leaving six bodies on the battlefield and very many wounded. The SPLA lost two martyrs and seven heroes were wounded."

According to the rebels, senior government officers issued orders to their field commanders in the Nuba mountains to capture as much territory as possible before the arrival of international observers to monitor the ceasefire.

The war in Sudan pits rebel groups fighting for greater autonomy in the mainly Christian or animist south against the Islamic government in Khartoum in the north.

The conflict, which began in 1983, has killed around two million people and displaced millions more.

At closed-door talks in Switzerland last week, mediated by Switzerland and the United States, the two sides agreed to allow civilians to move freely inside the 80,000 sq km (31,000 sq miles) Nuba region and give air access to humanitarian aid.

The deal was renewable every six months.

Homes and food stores have been burned in the region, livestock pillaged and harvests left behind by fleeing villagers.

Although the ceasefire covered only one part of the vast country, diplomats had said they hoped it could serve as a model for the rest of Sudan.

The talks in Switzerland were part of increased diplomatic activity to end the war. U.S. peace envoy John Danforth visited the country last week but said he was not satisfied with the warring parties' efforts.