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Landmines Kill 23 in Eastern Sudan

At least 23 people were killed and two wounded by landmines in two separate incidents in eastern Sudan.

According to Sudanese newspaper reports Wednesday, 22 people died Tuesday and one was injured after the pickup they were riding in hit a landmine near the city of Kassala.

Also near Kassala Monday another pickup hit a landmine, killing one person and injuring another.

The explosions occurred in an area where Sudanese government forces and the Eastern Front rebel movement have been fighting for more than a year.

The Kassala area is a stronghold of the Beja Congress rebel group, one of the members of the Eastern Front movement.

The head of the Beja Congress's legal department, Salah Barqueen, tells VOA he believes the Sudanese government planted the landmines in the area several years ago. He says they have caused much suffering to local communities.

"Until now it [the landmines] was not removed and this is destructive to the people who are living on this area," he said. "It attacks the people; it attacks the animals also. There are many incidents reported since years ago until today."

An adviser to the information minister, Rabie Abdul Atti, denies that the Sudanese government planted the landmines, saying that it is likely that rebels had planted them.

The Sudanese government and Eastern Front rebels signed a ceasefire agreement June 19 and are currently in peace talks.

Atti stresses that the recent landmine incidents were isolated occurrences.

"These accidents should not be interpreted in the context of the conflict between the government and the Eastern Front because there is now a complete understanding between them and we expect that signing of a comprehensive peace [agreement] between the Eastern Front and the Sudan government will happen in the coming few days," he said.

Several rebel groups formed the Eastern Front last year to demand more autonomy and a greater share of the country's oil, gold, and other revenues.

Their demands are similar to the demands of rebels who fought in southern Sudan and have since signed a power and wealth-sharing agreement with Khartoum.