Sudan Admits Government Troops Killed in Darfur Fighting, 05/12/03

KHARTOUM, May 12 (AFP) - The Sudanese army admitted on Monday   that a number of its troops were killed or wounded during fighting  in northwestern Sudan, but insisted the government retained control  of the area.

   An army spokesman, General Mohamed Beshir Suleiman, said in a   statement that a group of "armed outlaws" on Sunday attacked the  police and security headquarters and army garrison in Mallit town,  before looting a bank and the market.

   Mallit lies just north of Al-Fashir, capital of the state of  North Darfur, where a group calling itself the Sudan Liberation  Army/Movement surfaced for the first time in February.   Suleiman's statement, which was released by his office, said   joint government forces resisted the attackers.

   "A group of an alliance of bandits and outlaws assaulted the quiet town of Mallit, starting with the police and security offices  and the town's garrison, to paralyze security," it said.     The group "went on looting the Bank of Khartoum (branch) and the   market as their main goal," said the statement.     "Our army, police, security and popular defence forces   confronted the attackers and forced them to flee," the statement  said.    The town was now under control by government troops, "a number   of whom fell as martyrs", it said. Some other troops were wounded,  it added.

   First Vice President Ali Osman Taha said that, in launching   their attacks, the "group of outlaws are planning to create a  political row to make the government respond to their demands".     Although those demands were not specified by the rebels   themselves or the government, Taha implied that they included  power-sharing on a regional-ethnic basis.

   "We do not have institutions built on an ethnic basis and power   devolution is conducted in a peaceful manner through polling boxes,"  Taha was Monday quoted by the official Al-Anbaa daily as saying.     "What is happening in Darfur will not overthrow the regime but   will affect the security of the community and will exhaust the  country's resources," Taha said.     He said the armed gangs could only score hit-and-run attacks,   without actually occupying land or being able to press political  demands.

   The 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 s    outhern   separatist Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) of helping the  "outlaws" in the Darfur region, a charge denied by the SPLA.     The SLA, which first emerged in late February under the label of   the Front for the Liberation of Darfur, 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  fighting the Khartoum government.   

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