By Andrew Heavens
KHARTOUM, June 28 (Reuters) - Darfur rebels on Sunday accused Sudan government forces of a bombing raid on their territory which killed at least eight civilians, as mediators step up pressure for a settlement in the violent western region.
Fighters from the insurgent Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) said military planes bombed land they controlled near the settlement of Hashaba in remote North Darfur around midday on Saturday.
SLA founder Abdel Wahed Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur told Reuters his commanders reported eight civilians were killed in Hashaba, about 70km (43 miles) west of the North Darfur state capital, El Fasher. Another SLA commander reported over 20 casualties.
Sudan’s armed forced were not immediately available to comment and it was impossible to verify the figure independently. United Nations sources could not confirm the reports.
"Tens of people have been injured and hundreds of cattle have died. This is the government’s policy, to kill people to hang on to power," al-Nur told Reuters from Paris. He has refused to enter peace talks until after a full ceasefire.
Other international sources said they had unconfirmed reports of fighting in the area and several Sudan army planes had been seen leaving El Fasher airport.
If confirmed, the attack will dismay U.N. and African Union mediators who have been building up pressure for a political settlement in Sudan’s west, which has been going through a period of relative calm.
The attack would mark the first significant number of casualties in government-rebel clashes since Khartoum and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) fought over the two northern towns of Umm Baru and Kornoi in May.
SLA and JEM took up arms against Sudan’s government in 2003, accusing it of marginalising the region and starving it of funding. Khartoum mobilised troops and mostly-Arab militias to crush the uprising, launching a counter-insurgency that Washington calls genocide.
Khartoum estimates 10,000 people have died in the six-year conflict, while U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes puts the number at 300,000. (Editing by Sophie Hares)