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Sudanese Rebel Group Appeals for Help Against Government Attacks - 2004-01-04


A rebel group in the troubled Darfur region of western Sudan has appealed for help, following what it said was an attack by government troops and allied militias.

A spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Army, Ahmed Abdel-Shafi Yagoub, is urging the United Nations and international agencies to help injured and displaced people in Zalingei Province and protect them from further government attacks.

He said government troops and allied militias invaded Sorra on Friday, killing about 200 people with mortars and artillery. Sorra had a population of about 500.

"The village is completely destroyed now - it is just smoke," he said. "The properties were looted. There is nothing, there is no life in the village."

Mr. Yagoub said thousands of people have fled the area. Many of the survivors are badly injured, he says, but have no hope of receiving medical care.

Bitter warfare has stepped up in Darfur in recent months between rebels, the Sudanese government, and Arab militias that many observers say are allied to the government.

The conflict started early last year as a protest against perceived economic neglect by the government. Last month, the U.N. children's agency said the area is experiencing extreme human-rights violations and that more than 750,000 people have been displaced by the war in Darfur.

Mr. Yagoub said the conflict has taken on a racial dimension. "This one is a policy of the government - trying to push the population out of the area, which has no explanation other than ethnic cleansing," he said.

The Sudanese government denies that the Darfur conflict is ethnically motivated.

A source with the Sudanese government, who asked not to be named, said that war in Darfur was sparked because development was not balanced in the Darfur region, and that any fighting is just an act of armed gangs.

Within the past few years, says the source, the Sudanese government has made a very huge effort to develop the Darfur region and it has received more development assistance than any other region.

The source says Eritrea and some Sudanese political parties are supporting the rebels. According to the government, the rebels should be held responsible for the collapse of peace talks last year between the government and the rebels.

A cease-fire signed between the two in September also appears to have been violated.

Sudan's government and another rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, are not discussing the Darfur conflict during peace talks in the Kenyan town of Naivasha.