Rebels Say they have Seized Sudan State Capital, 04/25/03

Rebels say they have seized Sudan state capital

CAIRO, April 25 (AFP) -- The rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) said Friday its forces had taken control of al-Fasher, the capital of Northern Darfur State in northwest Sudan, in a phone call to AFP here from the group's leader, Mani Arkoi Minawi.

"Our troops took al-Fasher Friday morning and are now in the city after fighting with government forces," Minawi said, adding there were "a large number of dead in the ranks of the Sudanese army."

"Clashes are continuing outside al-Fasher with government forces that were sent as back-up," added Minawi, who did not say where he was calling from.

He said SLA forces had taken control of the city's command headquarters and seized the main artillery positions.

During the fighting rebel forces "shot down four helicopters and three Antonov-type planes belonging to the Sudanese government armed forces," and also seized four tanks in clashes near Kutum, northwest of al-Fasher, Minawi said.

"The taking of al-Fasher is our response to the latest statements of Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, who said negotiations with our movement will take place by marching over the bodies of the rebels," he added.

"It is also a response of the violations and exactions committed by the government against the population of Darfur."

Khartoum on Tuesday said its troops had driven SLA forces out of a stronghold in the Jebel Marrah area, a mountainous area some 150 kilometers (94 miles) to the southwest of al-Fasher, and taken control of rebel camps.

It has refused to recognize any political motivation for the unrest in Darfur, and has instead blamed it on armed criminal gangs.

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