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Sudanese security forces say more than 160 killed in clashes with JEM rebels in Darfur

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Clashes between Sudan's army and Darfur's most powerful rebel group have left more than 160 people dead, Sudanese security officials said Saturday.

The violence comes less than two weeks after the rebel Justice and Equality Movement broke off talks with the government on a permanent peace deal for Darfur, accusing the military of waging a new offensive in the troubled region.

In the deadliest clashes, government troops killed 108 JEM rebels Friday in the Jebel Moon area of western Darfur, near the Chad border, army spokesman Capt. Khalid al-Sawarmi said.

He said the military also captured 61 rebel fighters and confiscated weapons and vehicles. Al-Sawarmi did not provide any information on government casualties.

Government forces also battled JEM rebels near Nyala in neighboring south Darfur, Sudan's official SUNA news agency reported. Twenty-seven police and 33 rebels were killed in that fighting, the head of Sudan's Central Police Reserve, Dr. Mohamed Abdul Magid al-Tayeb, told SUNA.

JEM confirmed the clashes near Nyala, but said in a statement Saturday that its forces acted in self-defense after they were attacked by government troops. The rebels said they "totally destroyed the aggressor force," and captured a large number of government soldiers and weapons.

The violence, coupled with the collapse of peace talks, puts a damper on hopes for a permanent peace deal in Darfur that were raised after Sudan's government signed a cease-fire with JEM in April.

The conflict began in Darfur with a 2003 rebellion by groups who accused the government of neglecting the vast desert region. The U.N. estimates that some 300,000 people have died as a result of violence, disease and displacement since the fighting began.