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Darfur JEM threatens to retake town overran by Sudanese army

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February 4, 2009 (KHARTOUM) — The Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) warned that it will move to retake a major town that witnessed heavy fighting over the last few days.

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A Rwandan soldier serving with the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) (AFP)

The Sudanese army today announced that it has managed to recapture the rebel-held town of Muhajriya following heavy bombardment that displaced thousands of civilians.

“The Armed Forces have ... captured Muhajriya area from JEM and is pursuing the fleeing remnants of the rebel movements” the army spokesman said.

The African Union – United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said today that Sudanese troops were conducting patrols around the town.

UNAMID also reported ongoing shooting and aerial bombardments.

JEM have countered Khartoum’s claims saying that they have voluntarily withdrawn from the flashpoint town to avert civilian casualties inflicted by government planes.

The JEM spokesperson Ahmed Hussein speaking from the Chadian capital where he took part in a meeting with joint AU-UN peace mediator Djibril Bassole, warned Khartoum from entering the town stressing that their troops pulled out to protect the civilians and in consideration of the humanitarian situation there.

Hussein said that JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim informed Bassole “that they would confront the Sudanese army if it enters the town”.

The JEM chief said that “they will not remain indifferent” adding that they have the military capabilities to retake the town

“We will not allow ourselves to stand with our hands tied behind our backs” Ibrahim told Bassole.

JEM has taken control of Muhajriya since mid-January after driving out the fighters of former rebels led by Minni Minnawi.

Minnawi’s who leads a faction of Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) was the only major group to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) with Khartoum in May 2006. The town of Muhajriya is considered to be Minnawi’s stronghold.

The SLM faction issued a statement today vowing to assume control of the town emphasizing that it will not allow UNAMID peacekeepers or any other party to administer Muhajriya.

“The Sudanese army has nothing to do with Muhajriya” the SLM-Minnawi statement read.

In an interview with Sudan Tribune last month Minnawi called on the international community to condemn what he described as “blatant aggression” by JEM.

“Muhajriya has enjoyed stability and security for five years. They [JEM] have disrupted the livelihood of the people” he said.

“JEM must withdraw unconditionally from the area” the SLM leader added.

The U.N. says at least 30 people have already been killed and thousands displaced in three weeks of fighting over the south Darfur settlement of Muhajriya that has been condemned by senior U.N. and U.S. officials.

UNAMID have rejected demands by Khartoum to withdraw from town prior to its full blown attack.

UN experts estimate some 300,000 people have died and 2.5 million driven from their homes. Sudan blames the Western media for exaggerating the conflict and puts the death toll at 10,000.

(ST)

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