Mon Jun 20, 2011 5:56am GMT
By Alex Dziadosz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Satellite images showed the north Sudanese military massing in the Southern Kordofan border state, a monitor said, and rebels in Darfur accused Khartoum of attacking them with military vehicles and warplanes on Sunday.
Southern Kordofan, on the ill-defined border with the south, is among several flashpoints as Sudan's south prepares to secede on July 9, a move analysts say could embolden rebels in other parts of the country. The north's army is also battling armed groups in the western region of Darfur.
The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), which monitors Sudan, said new imagery from Friday showed the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) controlled Kadugli, capital of Southern Kordofan, and that thousands of civilians had been displaced."
The images "show a massing of SAF artillery, light vehicles and heavy transports of the kinds used to carry tanks, troops, and munitions," it said.
Fighting between the northern military and southern-aligned groups has spread across the north-run oil state since June 5. Tens of thousands have fled, according to the United Nations.
Northern military spokesman Al-Sawarmi Khaled said the army was not planning any escalation in Southern Kordofan but would continue to fight to end an armed rebellion, saying: "We are now fighting harder to control all the area in Southern Kordofan."
Set up last year by Hollywood actor George Clooney and other activists, the SSP says it seeks to head off renewed fighting and atrocities in Sudan by publishing commercial satellite images collated and analysed with the help of a U.N. agency.
Southern Kordofan, the main oil-producing state that will be left in the north after the south secedes, is home to thousands of fighters who fought against Khartoum during the last civil war, many of them from the Nuba mountains region.
Officials with the south's dominant Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLA) say clashes started when the north tried to disarm fighters there. Northern officials blame southern-aligned groups for provoking the fighting after an official from the north's ruling National Congress Party was named winner of a state gubernatorial election last month.
The south voted to secede in a January referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.
In Darfur, the Sudanese army confirmed it had clashed with rebels in the mountainous Jabel Marra region but said it had not used aircraft and the fighting had not displaced civilians.
Violence in Darfur, where mostly non-Arab rebels are fighting government troops backed by largely Arab militias, has fallen from its peak in 2003 and 2004 but a surge in attacks since December has forced tens of thousands to flee.
Ibrahim al-Helwu, a spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) led by Paris-based Abdel Wahed Mohamed al-Nur, said the violence began when government troops advanced from the Darfur settlements of Kas and Nyala. He said 27 people, including 19 civilians, were killed and about 40 wounded after an assault with land troops and Antonov and MiG aircraft.
"From the morning, the government started to attack," Helwu said, speaking by phone from Paris. "More than 10,000 civilians are displaced from this area".
The government military spokesman said troops had fought SLA rebels in the Jabel Marra area on Sunday, causing an unconfirmed number of casualties on both sides. He denied aircraft were used and said civilians had not been harmed.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of masterminding genocide and war crimes in Darfur. Khartoum refuses to recognise the court. The United Nations says as many as 300,000 people have died during the conflict in Darfur. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.
At least seven different rebel militias are also fighting the southern Juba government, according to the United Nations.
In Khartoum, 16 political activists said they were detained for about four hours on Sunday after attempting to stage a demonstration against violence in Southern Kordofan.
The United Nations has called on Khartoum to open up airspace above Southern Kordofan and said a campaign of aerial bombardment there has caused "huge suffering" to civilians.