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Sudan Rebels Deny Government Claim of Control over Darfur - 2004-02-10

One of the rebel groups in the western Darfur region of Sudan is denying Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir's claim that government forces are in full control of the troubled province. Meanwhile, the government in Khartoum says it will not attend talks later this week with rebels in Geneva to discuss opening a humanitarian corridor through Darfur.

Speaking to VOA by satellite telephone, an official with the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, Abubaka Ahmed Noor, said the year-old rebellion in the Darfur region has not been defeated, as Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir claims.

"It is not a true report," said Mr. Noor. "He says he has crushed our rebels in Darfur. Actually, [it is] not like that. Because they are bombing the civilians, we evacuated the towns. And now, we're surrounding their military and troops in rural areas under our control."

In a statement read on state-run television Monday, President Bashir declared that all major military operations in western Darfur, bordering Chad, had ended.

Describing the area as being entirely in government hands, Mr. Bashir said he would give amnesty to all rebels who surrender their weapons to police within a month. He warned that government forces would fight again, if the rebels did not disarm peacefully.

Mr. Noor, with the Justice and Equality Movement, says that while his group wants a peaceful resolution to the conflict, it will never accept a deal proposed by the Sudanese president or his government.

"Anything comes through Bashir, we reject them," asserted Mr. Noor. "We don't believe them. Anytime [there] is a call for peace, we will be there, but we want a witness to attend and see what the government is saying and what they're doing. We will never sit alone with them, unless there is a witness."

Darfur's other two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army and the smaller Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance, could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Geneva-based Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, Andrew Andrea, says the Sudanese government has declined his organization's invitation to attend a meeting with rebel representatives this Saturday and Sunday in Geneva. The meeting was intended to provide a forum for both sides to talk about creating a safe corridor for aid agencies to work in Darfur.

"We're not able to divulge the details of the discussions, other than to confirm that they [Sudanese officials] will not be attending," said Mr. Andrea. "We're considering the options now and discussions with the other parties to see the way forward from here."

Rebels in Darfur say they are fighting for more political autonomy and a bigger economic stake for their region. The conflict escalated dramatically in December, after peace talks, mediated by neighboring Chad, broke down.