The United Nations has confirmed the rebel Justice and Equality Movement has taken control of the town of Muhajeriya in the Darfur region of Sudan, after clashes last week with forces belonging to a former rebel leader now allied with the government. The U.N. warned the factions are preparing for another confrontation around the town.
The Justice and Equality Movement took control of the town in southern Darfur after a battle with troops from the Sudan Liberation Movement faction led by Minni Minawi. The town had been a stronghold for Minawi, who joined the Sudanese government after signing a peace agreement in 2006.
Justice and Equality Movement Secretary for Political Affairs Ahmed Lissan told VOA from eastern Darfur that his group defended itself after being attacked by Minawi's troops, along with other rebel factions and Sudanese government forces.
"The attacking forces have been defeated and destroyed completely. JEM took control of the whole area of Muhajeriya and areas surrounding Muhajeriya. The government forces came with helicopter gunships as well as Antanov aircraft," said Lissan. "The forces of the government and the forces of the other movements came separately."
The United Nations says Minawi's forces are likely preparing for another assault on the town, which would endanger civilians and displaced people living in the town. The United Nations says it has evacuated aid workers from the town after one agency's office was destroyed in the fighting.
Lissan said the Justice and Equality Movement is preparing for such an attack, which he expects would have government support.
Lissan denied a report in Sudanese state media Sunday that opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi has been supporting the Justice and Equality Movement. Turabi, who leads the Popular Congress Party, was arrested last week after calling for President Omar al-Bashir to surrender to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which is expected to announce shortly whether it will issue a warrant for President Bashir's arrest for war crimes committed in Darfur.
But the Sudanese Media Center reported that an unnamed security source said Turabi had been detained for providing financial and logistical support to the rebels. Officials from Turabi's party have denied such links. Lissan also denied ties between JEM and Turabi.
"This is the slogan of the Sudan government, and they are always trying to link Turabi with JEM," said Lissan. "We are an independent movement and we do not have any relation with Turabi. But Turabi's statement that Bashir should surrender and should give himself to the ICC, that is the reason why they arrested him, but this has nothing to do with JEM activities."
Turabi was an ally of President Bashir before breaking with the government in 2000. Turabi had also been close to JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim when the latter served as a government official in the 1990s.
A.U. and U.N. officials meeting in Addis Ababa to discuss the joint peacekeeping mission in Darfur said they expect to deploy 80 percent of the approved 26,000 troop force by March, and the rest by June. The force, which took over from an existing A.U. mission a year ago, has deployed about half the troops.