A respected figure in the Darfur rebellion has accused the Sudanese military of killing more than 100 people in the town of Haskanita, where 10 African Union peacekeeping personnel were killed last week during an attack on their base. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, the accusation is yet another blow to international efforts to initiate peace talks later this month between the government in Khartoum and Darfur's rebels.
The humanitarian coordinator for the rebel Sudan Liberation Army, Suleiman Jamous, says the civilians in Haskanita were killed by government troops and their ally, the Janjaweed militia, during a days-long rampage that destroyed the town.
Weeks prior to the September 29 attack on a nearby African Union military base, Sudanese troops and Darfur rebels fought several battles in and around the area of Haskanita.
Jamous says he believes the Sudanese army, which blames rebels for the attack on the African Union peacekeepers, launched an offensive in Haskanita to pursue people the army believes had been aiding or supporting the rebels.
On Saturday, a joint United Nations-African Union mission reported the remote southeastern settlement had been largely burned to the ground in recent days. The mission did not say who set fire to Haskanita, but it noted that the town was under government control.
The United Nations estimates that more than seven-thousand residents of Haskanita and several thousand more from the surrounding area have fled into the bush and are now in need of food, water, and shelter.
U.N. spokeswoman Radhia Achouri tells VOA that the mission does not have the authority to lead an investigation of the incident.
"Investigation of security incidents of that nature is the portfolio of the Ceasefire Commission that is headed by the African Union mission in Darfur. It is not part of what we do," she said.
In a telephone interview with VOA, the leader of a splinter group from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, Bahr Idrees Abugarda, says his group had nothing to do with the attack on the African Union base, which sparked this latest political and humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
He says what happened in Haskanita since the attack is the responsibility of the government in Khartoum.
"The government burned houses and killed people and looted many properties from the people of Haskanita. Some of the properties of the African Union are found in the markets in government-controlled areas, he said.
The Sudanese government has not yet commented on the rebel accusations.
The violence in Haskanita comes amid growing rebel opposition to the planned October 27 peace talks in Libya. In recent days, key leaders of both the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement have said they would boycott the U.N.-A.U. mediated talks unless their demands are implemented before the start of the peace process.