A new front has emerged in the complex and bloody war that has plagued Sudan's troubled Darfur region, where rebel factions are now fighting each other. The latest violence comes in the wake of the Darfur peace deal, which was not signed by all of the powerful rebel factions vying for control of the region.
Fighting among factions within Darfur's rebel Sudan Liberation Army has brought a new round of violence to this already bloody region, following the refusal some rebels to sign a May 5 peace deal.
African Union peacekeepers say civilians are again being caught up in the violence.
Some of the latest fighting pits one faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army, led by Minni Minnawi, who signed the peace deal, against another faction led by Abdel Wahid Mohamed Nur, who refused to sign.
African Union protection forces in Darfur say rebel infighting has taken a particularly nasty turn.
Colonel Richard Lourens is a Sector Commander with the A.U. in the volatile Kutum region in northern Darfur. "Within the villages the impact of the conflict between the rebels brings about a lot of suffering. Medical supplies are looted by those that are launching the attack. People are displaced, they leave their homes and they have to go to IDP camps and when they do return they are being harassed or they are being whipped. Some of them are being abducted and they are being ill-treated," he said.
Colonel Lourens led a recent investigation into a May 24th attack on Minni Minnawi's hometown of Birmaza, but the probe could not reach any firm conclusions because of differing accounts given by rebels.
According to members of the Nur faction, which refused to sign the peace deal but controls the town of Birmaza, Minni Minnawi's faction attacked the village, abducting and torturing several civilians.
Those men were brought to Colonel Lourens, who told VOA their injuries indicate they were tortured. "The injuries incurred was that upper arm, tight ropes being tied and then would make an incision on the upper arm. One would see it as burn marks but it is tight ropes tied around the arms. On the lower arm there would be marks with regard to whipping and on the back also whipping marks. When one goes to the mouth side, more whipping with pistols, swollen jaws," he said.
But supporters of Minnawi, who supported the Darfur peace deal, deny that they attacked the town. They say Chadian rebels control the town and they told the African Union that their own men had been abducted.
The A.U. has been unable come to a conclusion and it appears Minni Minnawi has lost popular support in Darfur.
Many people call him a traitor for signing the peace agreement.
Meanwhile, the faction led by Nur is demanding a greater share of the region's resources and has said that the 30-million dollars that the Sudan government has earmarked to compensate some 3-million victims of this brutal war, is not enough.
Nur has also asked for a Darfuri Vice President.
Minnawi recently returned from southern Sudan, where he was summoned along with Nur by Sudanese Vice President Salva Kiir.
But Nur, who is also under intense international pressure to sign the peace deal, did not attend the meeting.
Minnawi, upon his return from southern Sudan, told VOA he is frustrated by Nur's refusal. "Up to now [there is] not any progress to be mentioned. We waited there for three days. There is many efforts from the international partners, peace supporters from America, and this was the initiative of Salva Kiir himself. I think everybody is frustrated because up to now we cannot mention any progress on that effort. I don't know what Abdel Wahid is depending on up to now, because Abdel Wahid is supposed to be signed," he said.
The African Union Peace and Security Council have threatened to slap sanctions on Nur after giving him two additional weeks to sign the deal. But that deadline expired one week ago.
In the meantime, Darfuri civilians languish in devastated villages and squalid refugee camps and continue to bear the brunt of the bitter struggle.