Sudan's government has accused Darfur rebels of killing an unspecified number of civilians in attacks on eight villages. In a statement issued Sunday, Sudan's military says the rebels burned and looted the villages near the town of Malam.

The two main rebel groups in the region told the Reuters news agency their forces were not involved in any such attack.

An African Union official told the Associated Press that the group had received reports of the violence and was investigating.

Last year, Sudan's government and the two main rebel groups signed a cease-fire as part of ongoing peace negotiations. The government and rebels have repeatedly accused each other of violating the truce in recent months.

Meanwhile, the head of southern Sudanese rebels, John Garang, has met with a United Nations envoy to discuss sending international peacekeepers to the region.

Mr. Garang says he told U.N. envoy Jan Pronk that more consultations are needed to ensure the neutrality of a possible force of up to 10,000. He expressed concern that Malaysia and China are too close to Khartoum, because they are key investors in Sudan's oil business.

U.N. officials say the two Asian nations, along with Pakistan, have offered to send troops to southern Sudan to help monitor an end to 21 years of civil war. Mr. Pronk has said Sudanese officials and rebels must agree on which nations contribute to the force.

The U.N. Security Council is to debate authorizing the peacekeeping mission next month.

Some information provided by AP and Reuters.