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US Blames Darfur Rebels for Latest Upsurge in Violence

U.S. officials are blaming Darfur rebels for this week's renewed violence in the troubled region of western Sudan. The Sudanese government says more than 30 of its policemen have been killed in Darfur clashes since Monday.

The United States has been a persistent critic of Sudan's central government in the loss of life and mass displacement of civilians in Darfur, which it has described as genocide.

But officials here are attributing the latest violence to Darfur rebels, who they say have stepped up attacks "in a big way" in recent weeks, targeting police recently deployed to the area and prompting Sudanese army counter-attacks.

The Sudanese government said Tuesday rebels had killed at least 30 policemen in the last two days, attacking refugee camps in what it said was flagrant disregard for peace agreements they had signed.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli cited reports the Sudan Liberation Army rebel group had "instigated" the latest violence. He said both sides should adhere to the cease-fire they signed in Chad in April and cooperate with African Union peacekeepers.

"Our response is to remind both sides that they have made commitments in the N'Djamena ceasefire, under the humanitarian security protocols," said Mr. Ereli. "The African Union force will be aggressive in investigating and monitoring the situation. I think we've seen already concerted action by the African Union mission in Darfur. Their numbers are steadily increasing, upwards of 800 at the present time, looking to grow by approximately 400 in December to a total of 1200 or so, all toward the goal of a total of 3200."

The Darfur conflict erupted in early 2003, when the Sudan Liberation Army and another rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, took up arms against the Khartoum government, citing ill-treatment of the region's black African tribes.

The government responded by backing Arab "Janjaweed" militiamen, whose scorched-earth tactics against the rebels have driven a million and a half people from their homes and led to tens of thousands of deaths, mainly from disease and malnutrition.

Spokesman Ereli said the U.N. special representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, will report on the situation at the end of the month to the Security Council, which in a special meeting in Nairobi last week demanded that the Darfur parties cease all hostilities.

The Security Council also witnessed the signing there of a memorandum of understanding between the Khartoum government and southern rebels pledging to reach a comprehensive peace deal by December 31 to end two decades of hostilities.

Spokesman Ereli said a north-south peace accord "provides a way forward" for dealing with Darfur, since it contains provisions for autonomy and federalism that can also be applied to western Sudan.

The Khartoum government and the southern rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement, the SPLM, failed to live up a pledge to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to wrap up negotiations by the end of last year.

However, a senior State Department official told reporters Tuesday the new December 31 target is within reach.

He said the main problem issue, involving funding for a combined national military including former rebel troops, is "manageable."

He also said leaders of both the Khartoum government and SPLM are worried about revolts within their ranks if peace talks fail again.