(Updates with comments by JEM in the fifth paragraph, Sudan army spokesman in the sixth.)
July 19 (Bloomberg) -- Sudanese rebels from the western region of Darfur fought alongside fighters aligned with South Sudan’s army against Sudanese government forces in the state of Southern Kordofan, a spokesman for the insurgents said.
Clashes in Sudan’s only oil-producing state this month marked the first time the Justice and Equality Movement, Darfur’s biggest rebel group, and insurgents in Southern Kordofan fought together, JEM spokesman Gibreel Adam Bilal said by phone from Doha, Qatar. The area borders newly independent South Sudan.
“The government has been attacking our brothers in Southern Kordofan for over a month,” Bilal said. “We couldn’t just stand and watch with our hands tied.”
Fighting in Southern Kordofan has forced more than 73,000 people to flee their homes since June 5, the United Nations said. Clashes and air strikes by the Sudanese army there continued after the south was declared independent on July 9, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on July 12.
About 150 Sudan army soldiers were killed in battles, and others were captured, El Taher El Feki, the chairman of JEM’s legislative council, said by phone today. While El Feki didn’t have casualties from the rebel side, he said three JEM fighters were captured by the army.
Sudanese army spokesman Al-Sawarmi Khaled said “there is no proof” that JEM participated in the clashes and denied that government soldiers were killed in the fighting.
“Things are now calm in the state,” Khaled said today by phone from Khartoum, the capital.
A wider war may erupt in Sudan if clashes in Southern Kordofan aren’t resolved, Malik Agar, governor of Sudan’s border Blue Nile state and the head of the northern branch of South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, said July 3. Rebel groups from across the country may join together to fight the government in Khartoum, he said.
Authorities in South Sudan said fighting in Southern Kordofan broke out when the Sudanese army tried to disarm residents of the state, such as members of the Nuba ethnic group, who fought with the south’s army in its two-decade civil war against the north.
President Umar al-Bashir’s government in Khartoum accused those units from South Sudan’s army of starting the violence.
Last week JEM and other Darfur rebel groups boycotted a peace deal signed in Doha by al-Bashir’s government and the Liberation and Justice Movement, a splinter group.
Al-Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for responsibility for genocide and war crimes in Darfur. He denies the charges.
Southern Kordofan accounts for about 115,000 barrels a day, according to Sudan’s minister of state for oil, Ali Ahmed Osman.
--Editors: Karl Maier, Phil Sanders
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