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Aid workers rescued from Sudan fighting

More than 40 international aid workers were rescued from the bush in western  Sudan on Monday after they fled renewed fighting between Arab militias and Sudanese rebels.

Helicopters rescued more than 40 aid workers who fled into the bush to escape fighting in Darfur on Monday as renewed violence flared in the crisis-plagued region of western Sudan.

Fighting in Darfur, including the aerial bombardment of a town, overshadowed progress in ending Sudan’s other, longer-running civil war in the south. The United Nations announced plans to deploy 7,000 peacekeeping troops to southern Sudan, where rebels and the government reached a peace agreement last week to end their 21-year conflict.

In Darfur, African Union peacekeepers airlifted 45 people who had spent several hours hiding in the bush outside the town of Tawilla during clashes between rebels and Arab militiamen, U.N. spokesman George Somerwill told The Associated Press.

Kate Haiff, Sudan country director for Save The Children, UK, said more than 30 Sudanese workers for her organization and some other people were airlifted to the North Darfur capital of El Fasher.

No aid to strategic area
Somerwill, speaking by telephone to AP in Cairo, said no humanitarian aid is reaching thousands of people displaced by violence in Tawilla.

A tribal dispute over livestock sparked the clashes, which began Sunday and led to rebel Sudan Liberation Army forces’ attacking the government-allied Arab militia known as the Janjaweed, Somerwill said.

Six people were killed in the clashes, according to African Union monitors, he said. Tawilla is a strategic location that the government uses to supply forces based in western Sudan, near the Chad border, and areas in Darfur’s northwest. It is also home to about 30,000 African villagers displaced by the conflict.

A Save the Children statement said a Sudanese government plane dropped several bombs on Tawilla, with one landing 50 yards from one of the organization’s feeding centers.

Disregard for cease-fire
Somerwill said African Union forces confirmed that Sudanese “air assets were used, but we can’t confirm there was hostile action.”

If the reports are correct, they represent an apparent breach of Nov. 9 accords between rebels and the government, including a Sudanese agreement to create “no-fly zones” over Darfur. Rebels and African Union mediators had demanded the zones following widespread accusations of government bombings of villages.

“Both sides have demonstrated utter disregard for the cease-fire,” Tony Porter, Save the Children’s director of emergencies, said in a statement. “Yet again innocent civilians, particularly women and children, are suffering.”

In South Darfur, rebel forces attacked the Kalma camp housing thousands of people displaced by the 21-month Darfur conflict, Somerwill said. The fighting killed four Sudanese policemen and injured five others, regional Gov. Hajj Atta Manan told Sudan’s official news agency. Four rebels were arrested.

Sudanese forces later regained control of the camp, located near the South Darfur capital of Nyala, and humanitarian aid workers have resumed work, Somerwill added.

Perpetual war
Darfur’s conflict started when the non-Arab African Sudanese Liberation Army and allied Justice and Equality Movement took up arms to fight for more power and resources. The Sudanese government responded by backing the Janjaweed, which are now accused of targeting civilians in a campaign of murder, rape and arson. International agencies estimate that since March, disease, malnutrition and clashes among the displaced have killed more than 70,000 people.

In 48 years of independence, Africa’s biggest country has spent 39 years at war with itself. And both the south and west have long histories of internal conflict even before independence.

The United Nations hoped the accord to end the southern civil war could help quell the Darfur conflict, which began in February 2003.

U.N. spokeswoman Radhia Achouri said the world body is planning troop deployments and establishing U.N. agencies in southern Sudan to help shore up the peace agreement, which is expected to be sealed by the end of the year.

All United Nations organizations working to end the civil war will be moved within six months to southern Sudan, possibly to the city of Rumbek, from their current base in Nairobi, Kenya, Achouri said.