KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Darfur rebels on Thursday threatened to attack West Darfur’s state capital El-Geneina and told aid workers to stay in their compounds and away from government military bases.
Sudan’s army was not immediately available to comment on the threat which came in the middle of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.
The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) claimed victory in clashes with the army in the past week, taking 29 prisoners. Khartoum confirmed the clashes but denied they lost any troops.
“JEM is surrounding El-Geneina town from all sides,” JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim told Reuters from Darfur. “JEM will take the city.”
“We are saying to NGO (non-governmental organizations) not to fear but they should take care and stay in their compounds.”
JEM has increased its military power in recent months becoming the biggest threat to Sudan’s army in Darfur of the more than a dozen other rebels groups.
JEM was among many groups to boycott peace talks, which opened in October in Libya before quickly ending without specifying a date for resumption.
Ibrahim did not say when JEM was likely to attack. He added the government was relying on Chadian rebels to defend the town, which is close to the border.
Chad’s government has often accused Sudan of supporting an insurgency in its east as Khartoum says N’Djamena supports Darfur guerrillas. A Reuters witness has seen Chadian rebels in El-Geneina.
International experts estimate some 200,000 people have died in Darfur and 2.5 million driven from their homes in almost five years of revolt.
A JEM official also warned African Union peacekeeping forces to inform them before flying as they would target all military helicopters and planes.
The 7,000-some AU troops and police have failed to stem violence in Sudan’s west and are due to be replaced by a joint 26,000-strong U.N.-AU mission by the end of the year.
But Khartoum’s refusal to accept any non-African troops has delayed deployment meaning the earliest any troops are expected to arrive will be during January 2008.
Editing by Mary Gabriel