KHARTOUM, Sudan – The Sudanese government said Tuesday it had protested to the U.N. Security Council, the African Union and the Arab League over an attack by rebels from the troubled Darfur region on a town in a neighboring region where at least a dozen people were killed.
The Sudanese army said the raid Monday on the town of Hamarat Sheikh in the Kordofan region was carried out by rebel groups that have refused to sign on to a May 5 peace agreement to end more than three years of fighting in Darfur. The government signed the agreement with the main Darfur rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement.
"The attack on the town was carried out by a Darfur rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement," army spokesman Brig. Osman Mohamed al-Aghbash said. "Most of the civilians in the town have fled the area to save their lives."
The rebels killed civilians and police, the army said.
The Foreign Ministry said the Justice and Equality Movement and dissident groups from the Sudan Liberation Movement "conceded to having committed this heinous crime against their homeland."
A spokesman for the JEM claimed his group had acted in self-defense.
"The aggression was on our people. We just want to defend ourselves because within recent days, there was an attack carried out by the Sudanese army ... our people were thrown out of their homes in Darfur," JEM spokesman Ahmed Hussein told Al-Jazeera television by telephone from London.
Nearly 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced in more than three years of fighting in Darfur — a vast, arid region in western Sudan located between Kordofan and Chad.
Hamarat Sheikh is about half way between El Fasher, the capital of remote Darfur, and the Sudanese capital Khartoum about 250 miles to the east. The desert town is inhabited mostly by Arab tribal groups that trade camels and food with neighboring Libya and Egypt.
An eyewitness told The Associated Press Monday that a group of rebels in more than 50 cars attacked the town.
"They began by occupying government building and making much noise ... then we heard shootings," said the witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "Then they confiscated all trucks and cars belonging to private citizens and to the government."
The region's governor, Faisal Hassan Ibrahim, told local media Monday that 10 police officers and several civilians were killed in the raid. The governor, who had fled the town, confirmed eyewitness reports that rebels destroyed almost every government building in the zone.
Authorities said they were chasing the rebel troops into the desert Tuesday and other reports indicated that sporadic fighting continued to erupt around Hamarat Sheikh.
The ministry said authorities had launched security measures and appealed to the international community "in a bid to protect the lives of civilians and to safeguard the peace agreement itself against such plots."
While stemming from Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement is viewed as a movement with national ambitions and allegedly has ties to radical Muslim politicians in Khartoum. It has also joined a separate rebellion to the East of Sudan, and has bases in Eritrea.
The conflict in Darfur began in early 2003 when ethnic African tribes rose in revolt against the Arab-led Khartoum government. Sudan's government is accused of responding by unleashing the Arab-led janjaweed militias, which have been blamed for most atrocities. Khartoum denies this, but agreed in the peace agreement to disarm the janjaweed as a preliminary condition for rebels to disarm.