KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Former Darfur rebels who signed a peace deal with Sudan's government accused Khartoum on Thursday of attacking their forces and spreading false reports about the assault.
The accusations are another blow to the Qatar-brokered treaty, which the area's most powerful rebel groups refused to sign and critics say has done little to bring peace to the war-battered region.
State media on Wednesday said the army had killed three insurgents from the rebel Sudanese Revolutionary Front alliance who were trying to shell El Fasher, capital of North Darfur.
But the head of the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) - an umbrella group of smaller rebel factions that signed the peace deal - refuted that claim, saying the troops were actually LJM forces and the military knew they were in the area.
"Yesterday LJM forces were attacked by the armed forces near El Fasher," Tijani Sese said in a statement, adding two LJM troops were killed.
The former rebels had vehicles and rockets and had been in the area for nine months, he said.
Sudan's military spokesman was not immediately available to comment.
Sese said the LJM had contacted the region's international peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) about the attack and called for an end to what he described as a "false media campaign" to portray the slain fighters as members of the Revolutionary Front.
"This undermines trust and weakens the spirit to implement the Doha agreement," he said, referring the peace treaty signed in Qatar last year.
The Sudanese Revolutionary Front includes the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), considered to be Darfur's most militarily potent rebel group, and two other powerful insurgent factions, all of whom have refused to sign the Doha agreement.
Conflict has torn Darfur, an area the size of Spain which covers most of Sudan's west, since rebels took up arms there in 2003, accusing the government of marginalizing the region.
The government mobilized troops and allied militias to quell the rebellion, unleashing a wave of violence that led human rights groups and the United States to accuse Sudanese officials of carrying out a genocide.
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and other officials for masterminding war crimes in Darfur. They deny the charges and refuse to recognize the court.
Tribal clashes, banditry and fighting between rebels and government forces have continued and violence has risen in parts of the region in recent months.
Human rights groups and the United Nations have estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have died in Darfur's conflict, although exact tolls are controversial. The government has estimated around 10,000 people have died.
Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Alexander Dziadosz; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Jon Hemming