updated 10/7/2007 3:39:37 PM ET 2007-10-07T19:39:37

A Darfur town under the control of Sudanese troops has been razed, the U.N. said Sunday. The destruction of the town was in apparent retaliation for a suspected rebel attack on a nearby African Union peacekeeping base.

The town of Haskanita “which is currently under the control of the government, was completely burned down, except for a few buildings,” the U.N. mission to Sudan said in a statement.

The U.N. did not say who set fire to the town but said Sudanese government forces took control of the area last week after suspected Darfur rebels attacked the nearby AU base a week ago, killing 10 peacekeepers.

U.N. officials said the burning began Wednesday but observers were unable to obtain firsthand confirmation until Sunday.

“The market area had been looted,” the U.N. statement said. It said most civilians fled after the Sept. 29 attack on the base but a few returned to search for food and water.

A U.N. official who had just inspected the North Darfur town said Sunday more than 15,000 civilians were fleeing the area.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the town was destroyed by the Sudanese army and its allied janjaweed militias of nomad Arabs.

An Associated Press reporter saw Haskanita intact last weekend just as the army was taking control following the suspected rebel attack, although several villages were smoldering nearby at the time. It was unclear if anyone was killed or injured in the destruction of Haskanita.

Several international observers, including aid workers and U.N. officials, disputed claims by local rebel chiefs that about 100 civilians had been killed in the destruction of Haskanita.

The Sudanese military had no immediate comment on the burning of the town. The African Union said it could not comment since it had evacuated the area around Haskanita last Sunday.

Peace talks now in peril
The attack on the peacekeepers’ camp was the bloodiest against the undermanned and ill-equipped African Union mission and threw into peril peace talks between the Sudanese government and rebels set for this month in Tripoli, Libya.

Sudanese soldiers gained control of the camp shortly after it was overrun.

At the time of the attack on the AU peacekeepers, Sudanese forces were launching raids against rebel groups in the region.

Some rebels have said the attack on the AU peacekeepers may have happened because some rebel groups suspected the AU of collaboration with Sudanese forces, something the AU sharply denies.

Government forces and its allied janjaweed militia of Arab nomads have been accused of burning ethnic African villages as part of their counterinsurgency campaign against rebels.

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