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Sudan carries out air strikes in Darfur-U.N.

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 17 May 2011 18:09 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Sudan also restricts movement of aid groups, U.N. says

* Qatar-hosted peace talks in Darfur have stalled

(Adds new peacekeeper statement)

KHARTOUM, May 17 (Reuters) - Sudan has carried out air strikes against two villages in Darfur and restricted the movement of aid groups in the troubled western region due to "ongoing" operations, the international peacekeepers said.

Violence in Darfur, scene of an insurgency pitting mostly non-Arab rebels against government troops backed by largely Arab militias, has fallen from its peak in 2003 and 2004 but a surge in attacks since December has forced tens of thousands to flee.

Qatar has hosted peace talks that have been delayed by rebel divisions and continued military operations on the ground as Khartoum has gradually reasserted control over major towns and other previously rebel-held areas.

The Sudanese army carried out air strikes against Labado and Esheraya villages in southern Darfur on Sunday, the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) said.

UNAMID said it had no information on casualties because peacekeepers were denied access to the area on Monday, while the movement of aid groups in south Darfur has also been restricted.

"Ongoing military operations and security threats were cited as the reason for these latest restrictions," it said in a statement.

The Sudanese army and rebels in Darfur could not be immediately reached for comment.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of masterminding genocide and war crimes in Darfur.

The United Nations says as many as 300,000 people have died during the conflict. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.

Earlier this month, Sudan went ahead with a plan to create two additional states in Darfur, a move rebels have condemned as intended to strengthen Khartoum's control over the region.

Khartoum also plans to hold a referendum on July 1 on making Darfur a single region to upgrade its status despite rebel demands to wait until a peace deal has been signed.

Sudan's oil-producing south is due to break away from Khartoum on July 9 after its people voted to secede in a January referendum, a vote promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war.

(Reporting by Ulf Laessing)

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