The United Nations says at least 50,000 people have been made homeless by recent fighting between rebels and government forces in southern Sudan.

A U.N. statement released Sunday said that since early March villages in the Shilluk Kingdom in the northern Upper Nile region have been burned and civilian infrastructure destroyed. It said there are reports of rapes and looting in the region.

It said most of the attacks against civilians have been carried out by government-supported militias opposing rebels.

The United Nations says 13,000 displaced civilians have taken refuge in the main government-held town in the region, Malakal. Others are in places where effective control is unclear.

The clashes have occurred despite an October 2002 ceasefire between the government based in Sudan's mostly Muslim north and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which has waged a 21-year battle for greater autonomy for the mainly Christian and animist south.

The Khartoum government and SPLA rebels are in the final stages of talks hosted by neighboring Kenya aimed at ending the civil war. The talks have bogged down over the question of whether the capital, Khartoum, should remain under strict Islamic law.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.