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Khartoum Pressing Offensive Against Rebels In Western Sudan - 2004-01-30

Regional analysts say Khartoum is pressing an offensive to crush a rebellion in western Sudan, before signing a final peace deal with another rebel group. Thursday's bombing by Sudanese forces of a town straddling the country's border with Chad, is seen as part of the government's push against the rebellion.

Sudan's military said Friday it has driven armed rebels out the border town, Tine, and out of more than half a dozen rebel camps in the Darfur region of the country.

An analyst with the Nairobi office of the international Crisis Group, David Mozersky, says the renewed violence is a blow to hopes for peace in Darfur.

The Sudanese government and the country's main rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, are close to reaching a peace agreement in talks held in Kenya. The negotiations are sponsored by a regional grouping called the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, or IGAD.

But, Darfur is not included in the peace talks, and according to Mr. Mozersky, it is unlikely to join the talks anytime soon.

"The government is trying to crush the rebellion in Darfur. They want to crush it before IGAD resumes, ideally, or at least before IGAD is resolved. The main actors in the international community - U-S, U-K, etc. - are worried about pushing the government too far on Darfur for fear of overturning the apple cart, so to speak."

He says the peace talks offer immunity to the government, and that is why Khartoum wants to defeat the rebellion before a final peace deal is signed.

The Sudanese government has said it is committed to bringing peace to Darfur, but it says the way to do that is to drive out what it calls the armed robbery gangs that are terrorizing local populations.

Analyst Mozersky says the Sudanese offensive is a part of a plan.

"It just exemplifies the fact that what is happening in Darfur is getting out of control. It's not the first time that the government has attacked on the Chadian side."

He and other regional analysts warn that any peace deal signed between the Sudanese government and the main rebel group will be worthless, if the volatile Darfur is not brought to the talks.

U-N officials in the region said Sudan's raid on Tine killed at least two people and injured more than 15 others.

Darfur is a volatile region in northwestern Sudan where rebels, Sudanese government troops and Arab militias have been engaged in air and ground battles for at least a year. The U-N human rights agency has said unarmed civilians are subjected to systematic abuse and called on all sides to stop fighting.

The U-N refugee agency has set up camps near Tine to care for more than 18-thousand people who have fled Darfur in recent weeks.