Sustained armed clashes between rebel groups and Sudanese forces have re-emerged in Sudan's western region of Darfur as another round of peace talks appear to be going nowhere. The international peacekeeping mission there says more than 14,000 civilians have had to flee over the past few days of violence.
The Sudan Liberation Movement faction still aligned to founder Abdel Wahid al-Nur has reported days of fighting against government forces within its stronghold area of Jebel Marra, a mountainous area in central Darfur never successfully captured by Khartoum since the rebellion began in 2003.
The rebel group is claiming that it repelled a government offensive and has killed dozens of Sudanese soldiers. A Sudanese army official contacted by AFP denied that Sudanese government forces were involved in the clashes.
Justice and Equality Movement, the restive region's other major rebel group, has reported being attacked by government-aligned troops in the Jebel Moon area of West Darfur. The group also reported aerial bombardment on the area from government forces.
Noureddine Mezni, spokesperson for the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in the region, known as UNAMID, told VOA that at least 10,000 had been displaced in the Jebel Marra fighting and 4,000 in the Jebel Moon fighting.
But he said the peacekeeping force suspected the actual displaced count was much higher. UNAMID troops have not been given access to the affected areas, and a planned visit by an evaluation team to Jebel Marra has been postponed due to security concerns on the ground.
Mezni said the peacekeeping force is urging an end to the violence to allow aid to the affected civilian populations.
"We are appealing to the parties to cease hostilities to allow UNAMID and aid agencies to urgently meet the humanitarian needs of the newly displaced people. This is very important for us," he said.
Another round of peace negotiations between rebel groups and the Khartoum government are ongoing right now in Doha, Qatar, but the talks are severely inhibited by the continued boycott of the meetings by exiled SLM founder Abdel Wahid, who reportedly maintains much popular support on the ground.
The three rebel factions who are participating in the Doha talks have yet to agree to a unified negotiating position, seen to be a necessary pre-cursor to any successful outcome. No breakthrough has yet been announced at the peace summit.
Reports have surfaced of internal fighting within the Abdel-Wahid SLM rebels in the Jebel Marra area beginning in early January. Julie Flint, an author of a book on the Darfur conflict, wrote in a recent blog post that the internal power struggle involved disillusionment among some commanders with the Paris-based leader's refusal to join the peace process.
The UNAMID spokesperson says that only a political solution can end the crisis in the region.
"There is no military solution to the conflict in Darfur. The only solution remains in the talks around the negotiating table. This is the only way to put an end to the suffering of the people of Darfur," said Mezni.
The body of a Darfuri university student was found mutilated in Khartoum last week. Friends and family allege he was kidnapped and murdered by state security forces. More than a 1,000 Darfuris attended his funeral, surrounded by riot police.
UNAMID received five helicopters on Tuesday donated by the Ethiopian government, giving the peacekeeping mission its first aerial capabilities after years of waiting.
In April, Sudan holds its first democratic national polls in 24 years. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is running to retain the nation's top seat.