Sudan Says "outlaws" Killed 75 Government Troops, Took 30 Prisoners, 05/06/03

KHARTOUM, May 6 (AFP) -- Seventy-five Sudanese troops were killed and another 30 taken prisoner during an attack by "outlaws" in northwest Sudan late last month, a senior official was quoted as saying Tuesday.

The Sudanese army said previously that 32 Sudanese troops, including two officers, had been killed in the fighting in Al-Fashir, the capital of North Darfur State.

Sudanese Defense Minister Bakri Hassan Saleh said 32 troops in the regular army were taken prisoner and another 75 were killed during the attack on Al-Fashir, the government daily Al-Anbaa said.

General Saleh, speaking before parliament on Monday, also said a number of troops had been wounded, but did not say how many.

The army's spokesman General Mohamed Beshir Suleiman told AFP on April 29 that a commander of the Sudanese air force in Al-Fashir, General Ibrahim Bushra Ismail, was abducted during the attack.

A group calling itself the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), which first appeared in late February, claimed that its forces had captured the state capital, but the Islamist government of President Omar al-Beshir refuted the claim.

Beshir's government has refused to acknowledge any political motivation for unrest in the states of North, South and West Darfur, blaming it instead on "armed criminal gangs and outlaws," who it says are aided by tribes from neighboring Chad.

The Sudanese authorities have also accused the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) of helping the armed men in the Darfur region.

The SLA is not included in the framework of peace talks aimed at ending Khartoum's 20-year-old civil war with the SPLA. It has never acknowledged any link with the SPLA, but called in mid-March for an "understanding" with other opposition forces in Sudan.

Darfur is one of the most arid and isolated regions in Sudan, Africa's largest country. The area has witnessed tribal clashes and bandit raids for many years, but no armed political faction had previously been reported there.

In late February, a group calling itself the Front for the Liberation of Darfur (FLD) reportedly seized the town of Gulu, the capital of Jebel Marrah province, and installed their own administration.

The group, which later named itself the SLA, called for the overthrow of the Islamist government in Khartoum.

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