December 17, 2012 / 4:11 PM / in 5 years

Sudan rebels say shoot down government plane in oil state

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Rebels fighting to overthrow Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir said on Monday they had shot down a government military Antonov plane in the country’s main oil-producing state.

Sudan’s military was not immediately available to comment on the report, which could not be verified independently.

Fighting has raged in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states - which border newly-independent South Sudan - for more than a year. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes in the regions.

The rebels, known as SPLM-North, said in an emailed statement they hit the Antonov plane with anti-aircraft fire while it was bombing an area in South Kordofan on Tuesday last week.

A reconnaissance team had since confirmed the shooting brought the plane down, they added. The statement did not say why the report was a week late.

The insurgents said they would publish “photographs and details” of the plane soon.

Rebels and government forces often make conflicting claims about fighting in the region, where Sudan’s government restricts access by independent journalists and other observers.

The fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile has complicated relations between Sudan and South Sudan, which seceded last year under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.

The insurgents of the SPLM-North were part of the southern insurgent army, but were left in Sudan at partition.

They now say they are fighting to protect their ethnic minorities from oppression by Khartoum. The Sudanese government in turn accuses them of trying to sow chaos in the region at the behest of their former comrades in South Sudan.

Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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