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Nyala airport comes under attack as Darfur rebels claim responsibility

April 22, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – The main airport in South Darfur capital of Nyala came under shelling this weekend from rebels belonging to the Sudan Liberation Army of Minni Minnawi (SLA-MM) in the latest sign of growing military escalation in the state.

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Rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), loyal to leader Minni Minnawi (file photo/AFP)

The SLA-MM said in a statement that the airport was carefully targeted with shells and claimed that this has set parts of it on fire and led to an exchange of fire amongst security officers inside who thought the attack was from within the airport.

Eyewitnesses speaking to Sudan Tribune from Nyala confirmed the airport attack while officials from South Darfur government refused to comment on SLA-MM claims.

SLA-MM further said that they inflicted "a crushing defeat" on Sudan troops and militias in Morla on Monday night. The rebel group claimed to have seized 10 military vehicles, destroyed 13 others along with a tank and killed 100 fighters from the government side.

Government troops were forced to flee to the outskirts of Nyala, the statement said.

South Darfur state has witnessed a near total security breakdown in recent months with recurrent incidents of looting, banditry and murder including from pro-government militias.

This month an MP warned that Nyala may soon fall into rebel hands if the government does not quickly intervene to constrain the situation.

The Sudanese defense minister acknowledged the deteriorating situation but asserted that the army is stretched thin as it had to guard commercial convoys carrying food and fuel to Nyala which faced severe shortages lately because of growing insecurity.

Violence in Darfur has subsided from its peak in 2003 and 2004, but a surge in fighting has forced more than 130,000 people to flee their homes since the start of this year, according to the United Nations.

War broke out in Darfur in 2003 when rebels took up arms against the central government, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the remote region and marginalizing its ethnic minorities.

Despite the presence of the world’s largest peacekeeping mission, UNAMID, fighting between Sudan’s army and rebels has continued since then, alongside banditry and tribal clashes.

Last week a UNAMID peacekeeper was killed and two others were wounded in southern Darfur town of Muhajiriya.

Most major Darfur rebels remain outside the Doha peace deal signed two years ago in Qatar.

(ST)