Sudan accused of attacks day after Darfur deal

KHARTOUM, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Darfur rebels accused Sudan's government of launching two attacks on their positions on Wednesday, a day after the sides signed a goodwill agreement paving the way to peace talks.

The insurgent Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said government aircraft bombed their fighters in the mountainous East Jabel Marra area, at the same time as ground forces and militias clashed about 70 km (45 miles) further northeast.

No one was immediately available from Sudan's armed forces to comment on the reports. The prominent leader of a separate rebel force confirmed the air attack, saying it killed four civilians, while peacekeepers said they were looking into reports of both incidents.

The reports will dismay observers and foreign governments who on Tuesday gave a cautious welcome to the deal between JEM and the government. Many said it could be a first step to peace after almost six years of fighting.

The warring sides met in Qatar and agreed to make peace talks a priority, swap prisoners and allow the free flow of aid -- but stopped short of agreeing a ceasefire. The sides said they planned to reach a separate "framework agreement" that would, eventually, set the scene for an end to hostilities and full talks.

The news of renewed bombing comes at a highly sensitive time for Sudan, as it waits for a decision from judges at the International Criminal Court over whether to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of masterminding genocide in Darfur.

Sudan's armed forces have acknowledged bombing rebels in the past, even though air attacks in Darfur are banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions and other accords.

Senior JEM commander Suleiman Sandal told Reuters JEM forces fought off an attack in the Jabal Wana area near El Fasher, capital of north Darfur state.

"While we were on a normal patrol, our forces were attacked by the government forces ... and other forces who are with the government," he said.

Sandal said government planes also bombed JEM positions in East Jabel Marra.

"The goodwill agreement in Doha did not include a cessation of hostilities so the war is going on," he added, saying he was speaking from Darfur by satellite phone. "This is normal for us. This will not affect the Doha talks as they are separate."

Abdel Wahed Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur, the Paris-based leader of the separate rebel Sudan Liberation Army, said government helicopters and planes bombed the territory which he said he controlled in East Jabel Marra. Four civilians, including three children, were killed and at least 40 wounded, he added.

"This is the behaviour you get from this regime. This is the result of the peace agreement they signed in Doha," he told Reuters. Al-Nur and other faction leaders have dismissed the Qatar talks, saying they are doomed to failure without their involvement.

The joint U.N./African Union UNAMID peacekeeping force in Darfur said it could not confirm reports of the bombing but was checking reports from rebels. The undermanned mission does not have a base close to the site of the reported bombing.

Other international sources in El Fasher said there had been an unusually high number of Antonov aircraft taking off and landing early on Wednesday.

JEM and the SLA took up arms against Sudan's government in 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the development of the region. Sudan, which mobilised mostly Arab militias to crush the revolt, denies accusations from Washington that genocide took place during the counter-insurgency. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: