The Sudan Liberation Army rebel group says the Sudanese army has launched a new offensive in northern Darfur. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, the attack would be the largest since the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor announced last month that he would seek an arrest warrant for Sudan's president.
Suleiman Marajan, a commander for a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army, says a convoy of 270 government vehicles on Tuesday attacked rebel positions near Atron, in the north of Darfur, near the border with Libya.
"The situation now in North Darfur, is very terrible," he said. "Because the government is moved all its troops from different directions. The situation from today it is going very very very difficult."
Marajan said 80 civilians and more than 30 SLA troops have been killed in the offensive. He said the attack was part of an effort by the Sudanese government to revive the conflict in Darfur, following the announcement last month that the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor is seeking an arrest warrant for Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir.
"After the letter from the ICC, Omar al-Bashir is now going to start a new war in Darfur," he said. "Because he wants to control all the area and say to the international community, no SLA, no JEM, no anything, now we have got a peace by force."
Marajan's rebel faction is led by Abdul Wahed el-Nur, who founded the original Sudan Liberation Army. He now lives in Paris. Al-Nur told the Sudan Tribune that government forces had killed seven workers mining sodium carbonate in the area on Sunday.
A member of the Sudan Liberation Movement - Unity faction also told the Reuters news agency that a large government force had attacked the area.
The possibility of an arrest warrant for President Bashir has put the spotlight on the government's role in Darfur. But addressing the United Nations on Tuesday, the commander of the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, Martin Luther Agwai, also reserved criticism for the rebel groups.
"It takes two to tango," he said. "Let us not put too much searchlight on one party. We have over 30 groups on the ground. Command and control is lost completely by the movements. I am not in any way saying that the government is clean, but what I am saying is that, also, the other side cannot be said to be saints."
Agwai spoke of the limitations of the peacekeeping mission, which has deployed fewer than 10,000 of the planned 26,000 member force.
U.S. envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson said Tuesday the United Nations has specific plans for providing the remaining troops.
But under the best case, according to the latest U.N. estimates, 80 percent of the force would be deployed by the end of the year - one year since the mission's start - and the full force may not deploy before next fall.
An estimated 200,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Darfur since 2003, and 2.5 million displaced.