More than 60 people died in recent Darfur clashes

More than 60 people have died in fighting in Darfur during the past few days, the African Union and United Nations reported, as various armed groups in the west Sudanese region battled for territory ahead of an expected disarmament. Militia hailing from nomadic Arab tribes launched two separate attacks in South Darfur on Friday that killed 29 and six ethnic African villagers, Moussa Hamani, the chief information officer for the AU peacekeeping mission to Darfur, said in Khartoum on Sunday.

The UN mission to Sudan said in an email press release Sunday that villagers in another South Darfur village had attacked a local Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, on Friday. Eleven farmers and eight Janjaweed were killed, the United Nations said. In a email statement issued Monday, the UN mission confirmed that on Thursday the Sudanese army and police fought a group of about 100 militia near Manawashi in southern Darfur. Seven militia were killed and two arrested, the statement said. The UN said it had received unconfirmed reports that two government soldiers were also killed in the clash.

Hamani said the fighting in Darfur had increased since the peace agreement signed on May 5 to end a conflict that has left over 180,000 dead and 2,5 million displaced in the vast arid region since 2003. "The problem seems to be that everyone wants to maximize their territory before the truce and disarmament actually come into effect," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

The May 5 agreement called for a cease-fire within 72 hours, which was ignored. But it also said the government has 37 days to submit a plan to disarm the Janjaweed, and that rebel movements will give up their weapons once they have seen the militia doing so. The United Nations said the Sudanese army and police have stated they would disarm armed bandits in southern Darfur.

Anticipating a possible increase in violence, the U.N.'s security assessment office in Sudan advised U.N. workers and international non-governmental organizations to limit their movement in the area. The latest killings came ahead of an expected visit to Khartoum by top U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Tuesday, the United Nations said. A former U.N. envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq, Brahimi is expected to push the government to accept last week's U.N. Security Council resolution that plans for the world body to take over peacekeeping in Darfur from the African Union.

The UN statement said the villagers' attack on Friday in the South Darfur area of Kalaka was in retaliation for Janjaweed raid that killed the brother of Minni Minnawi, the main leader of the Darfur rebellion, on May 5 the day Minnawi signed the peace agreement. On the telephone from neighboring Chad, Minnawi said his brother Yussef was a civilian who was not involved in the Darfur rebellion. "The Janjaweed could still have targeted him on purpose. They have been known to do that," he told the AP.

Minnawi stated his troops were not involved in Friday's attack, and said he had heard reports the villagers had taken arms because Janjaweed were looting the area. The U.N. spokesman in Sudan, Baha Elkoussy, said the mission had received unconfirmed reports that a group of about 1,000 Janjaweed were massing in northern Darfur in an apparent threat to the Kutum area. "The problem is there are so many incidents taking place over such a large area that it is hard to investigate everything," Elkoussy said on the phone from Khartoum, reports the AP.