KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- The Sudanese army said Sunday it has cleared several more areas of rebel control in North Darfur province ahead of peace talks set for October. Rebels denied the government claims.
The state news agency quoted the military saying it had targeted in particular the Sudan Liberation Army of exiled rebel leader Abdelwahid Elnur, the largest rebel movement .
There was no word about casualties, only that the army had "purged the areas of the remnants" of the rebels.
The government claims could not be independently verified. They follow rebel reports of intense fighting in the area starting Thursday. SLA members said at least three of their fighters were killed and many civilians were displaced.
The local governor, Osman Mohammed Kebir, said that the regions of Korma and Tawila had been cleared of rebels and the internally displaced in the massive camps could now return home - something the rebels and refugees themselves have rejected citing lack of security.
The joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur said it could not confirm the details of the fighting since it does not have a presence in the area, but had received reports about the violence from both sides.
"We are waiting to sent an urgent mission there to verify and assess the security and humanitarian situation," said UNAMID spokesman Nourredine Mezni.
The renewed fighting comes after peacekeepers in Darfur said the war in Darfur is largely over, citing a decline in fighting. Peacekeepers warned that if the root causes of the rebellion are not addressed, however, the violence could flare up once more.
Experts say one explanation for the drop in violence is the Khartoum government has largely achieved its counterinsurgency goals of depriving the rebels of their popular bases by driving civilians out of Darfur.
Following a rebel attack on the Sudanese capital last year, the government also mounted a series of successful campaigns against rebels in North Darfur province.
The government's new push against the rebels comes ahead of peace talks to be held in the Qatari capital Doha in October. Not all rebels have agreed to attend, including the SLA.
Abdullah Bakar, an SLA commander, confirmed that there had been heavy fighting in those areas, but denied that the government troops had been successful.
"We still have full control of our lands ... our forces are still on the ground in these areas," despite three days of government attacks, he told The Associated Press by telephone.
He said 20 people, all civilians, had been killed in the fighting.
The Darfur conflict began in February 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in Khartoum, claiming discrimination and neglect.
U.N. officials say the war has claimed at least 300,000 lives from violence, disease and displacement. They say some 2.7 million people were driven from their homes and at its height, in 2003-2005, it was called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
On the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr holiday ending the fasting month of Ramadan, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir called for rebels to lay down their arms and engage in dialogue with the government to end the Darfur conflict.
He also expressed confidence that a solution would be reached to end the fighting in the upcoming Doha talks.