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International monitors confirm fighting in southern Sudan

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NAIROBI, April 19, 2004 (AP) — An international monitoring team tasked with verifying a cease-fire in southern Sudan confirmed Monday that government forces have attacked villages and rebel positions in violation of a cease-fire agreement.

The team from the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, which includes seven East African nations, said it had collected "evidence of a campaign of violence by forces allied to the government of Sudan against civilians" in the Upper Nile region.

The statement was issued the day after U.N. authorities reported that at least 50,000 people had been forced to flee their homes because of militia attacks and fighting between Sudanese government and rebel forces.

The clashes over the past few weeks have occurred despite an October 2002 cease-fire between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and despite a nearly two-year peace process aimed at ending the 21-year-old civil war.

Since early March, the U.N. has received reports of villages, schools and health clinic being destroyed and looted, as well as incidents of rape in Shilluk Kingdom, in the northern Upper Nile region, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan said in a statement Sunday.

The Verification Monitoring Team’s statement said they received orders April 2 to investigate the reports. Military observers confirmed that there had been heavy fighting and that 70,000 people were homeless.

"Renewed fighting between forces allied to the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army broke out in the Shilluk Kingdom in early March," the statement said. "The violence escalated and spread across the Shilluk Kingdom."

U.N. agencies and aid groups have been forced to suspend operations in the area because of the violence. Ben Parker, a U.N. spokesman, said Sunday that most of the attacks have been carried out by militia opposing the rebels.

"The most serious fighting that has affected civilians have been from militia targeting civilian settlements," Parker said by telephone from Sudan . "Fighting between government troops and SPLA is a much smaller element in the conflict as far as we know."

Yasir Arman, a spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, accused the militia of carrying out the attacks with government support.

Ad’ Dirdeiry M. Hamed, Sudan ’s deputy ambassador to Kenya, said Sunday that no government troops were involved in the fighting. He said the clashes pitted rival groups of a southern faction against each other.

Sudan ’s civil war erupted in 1983 when rebels from the mainly animist and Christian south took up arms against the predominantly Muslim and Arab north.

More than 2 million people have perished in Africa’s longest-running conflict , mainly through war-induced famine, but fighting has slowed since the warring parties began peace talks in July 2002.

Negotiations, which are taking place in Kenya, are nearing their conclusion but are currently deadlocked on key outstanding issues.

These include whether Khartoum, the capital, should be governed under Islamic law and the details of power-sharing for two disputed areas in central Sudan .

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The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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