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Sudanese forces bomb town in Darfur -- U.N.

KHARTOUM, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Sudanese government planes bombed a key town in south Darfur on Saturday, a week after it was seized by Darfuri JEM rebels, peacekeepers and insurgents said.

Bombs landed close to a base run by the joint U.N./African Union peacekeeping force, UNAMID, in the town of Muhajiriya and destroyed houses, a U.N. official said.

The attack marked an escalation in recent clashes between government troops and forces from Darfur's Justice And Equality Movement (JEM).

JEM has seized control of Muhajiriya from forces led by Minni Arcua Minnawi, the only Darfur rebel leader to have signed a peace deal with the government in 2006.

Tensions have been rising in Darfur as all sides of a nearly six-year-old conflict are waiting for the International Criminal Court to decide whether to issue an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes.

The U.N. official, who asked not to be named, said government planes had bombed Muhajiriya on Saturday morning. "Some bombs landed near the UNAMID compound and some houses have been burned," he said.

The attacks were confirmed by JEM's chief negotiator, Ahmed Tugud. "Right now there is bombing", he told Reuters at 12:30 p.m. (0930 GMT). "The Sudan Armed Forces aircraft are bombing Muhajiriya. There are flames everywhere in the town."

He said no one from JEM was injured because its forces were outside the town.

No one from Sudan's armed forces was available for comment.

International experts say 200,000 people have died since JEM and other rebels took up arms against the government in 2003, accusing it of neglecting the remote western region. (Reporting by Andrew Heavens, Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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