KHARTOUM Darfur rebels accused Sudanese government forces of attacking an area along the border with Chad in violation of a unilateral ceasefire the government declared at the opening of peace talks in Libya.
Rebels from two factions, which did not attend the talks, said on Monday the government had attacked the Jabel Moun area along the Chad-Sudan border on Saturday, the very day the government announced a ceasefire.
"At the same time they were announcing that there is a ceasefire there was aerial bombardment in Jabel Moun," said Justice and Equality Movement commander Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr.
Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) commander Jar el-Neby confirmed there had been an attack but offered no details.
A Sudanese army spokesman, however, denied the reports.
"We have no government forces there and it is not in our benefit to bomb anyone," he said.
The reports of violence came after two days of U.N.-African Union-mediated talks in Libya aimed at ending 4-1/2 years of violence in western Sudan. The absence of three main rebel factions undermined any hope a peace deal would emerge from the gathering.
International mediators have stressed the weekend discussions in the city of Sirte were just the start of what will be a long peace process and they hope to persuade those rebels who have boycotted the process to join.
U.N and African Union officials pressed on with closed-session talks in Sirte on Monday, holding meetings with the Sudanese government delegation and rebel groups, an AU spokesman said.
"This phase of separate consultations could continue for two days," he said.
The talks are the first attempt to gather Darfur rebels and the government around a negotiating table since 2006 when the African Union mediated Darfur peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria.
Signed by only one rebel faction, the Abuja deal had little support among the 2 million Darfuris in displacement camps and it triggered triggered fresh violence as rebels split into more than a dozen factions.
Analysts have said without the support of the main Darfur rebel groups, any deal coming out of the Libya talks would, like the Abuja deal, be doomed to fail.
Efforts to end the conflict in western Sudan, which started in 2003 when rebels rose up against the government charging it with neglect, have been stymied repeatedly. A 2004 ceasefire, after which 7,000 AU troops were sent to Darfur to keep the peace, was rendered meaningless by repeated violations.
The SLA's Neby expressed skepticism the Sudanese government was interested in peace despite its declaration on Saturday.
"This ceasefire is just propaganda," he said. "We know the government is still preparing and gathering its troops in Darfur."
Ahmed Adam, a rebel commander in West Darfur near the site of the attack, said about 40 cars of militia and government troops had engaged rebels in fighting south of Jabel Moun in the past two days but then had withdrawn.
"They bombed two days ago ahead of the attack ... we expect them to attack again from the north," he said.
The African Union, which monitors the region, was not immediately able to confirm the attack. It does not have a base in the rebel-controlled region.
International experts say an estimated 200,000 people have died and more than 2 million forced to flee their homes in the fighting. The Sudanese government says the West exaggerates the conflict and only 9,000 people have died.
(Additional reporting by Salah Sarrar in Tripoli)