KHARTOUM (Reuters) - The United Nations is deeply concerned about reports of armed groups raiding and looting markets in Sudan's North Kordofan state, forcing civilians to flee and marking a possible escalation of violence in borderlands.
Rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) from the Western region of Darfur are thought to be behind the violence, a U.N. source said on Thursday. JEM confirmed it had troops in North Kordofan but denied it had raided any markets.
The army has been fighting rebels of the SPLM-North in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, forcing almost 200,000 civilians to flee to neighboring South Sudan and Ethiopia.
North Kordofan lies north of South Kordofan and is much closer to the capital Khartoum. Rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM), JEM and other rebels from Darfur have formed an alliance to topple Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
So far the alliance's presence seems to have been limited to Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur, scene of an almost decade-long insurgency.
"The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan ... has expressed deep concern at reports of raids and looting of markets by armed groups in both South Kordofan and North Kordofan that have recently forced yet more civilians to flee their homes," the U.N. said in a statement.
It gave no more details. There was no immediate comment from the Sudanese army.
JEM has been claiming to have conducted attacks with the SPLM-North in southern borderlands but limited access to the remote regions makes it difficult to assess such claims.
JEM spokesman Gibreel Adam denied JEM fighters had looted any markets in North Kordofan but he confirmed the group was present in the state. He said fighters had been relocating to new positions inside North and South Kordofan as well as Darfur.
Sudan accuses South Sudan of supporting the SPLM-North, a claim denied by Juba. The SPLM is the ruling party in South Sudan which split off from Sudan in July under a 2005 agreement that ended decades of civil war.
South Kordofan and Blue Nile contain large populations who supported the south during the civil war and were left on the Sudan side of the border when Juba declared independence.
Heavy border fighting broke out between the neighbors in April, scuppering talks between north and south over a long list of unresolved issues such as oil payments or the marking of the 1,800 km (1,200 miles) long border.
The African Union has brought back both sides to the negotiation table but there is no sign of a breakthrough.
Reporting by Ulf Laessing and Khalid Abdelaziz; Editing by Robert Woodward