Insurgents have shelled near the capital of Sudan's troubled North Darfur state for the second time in less than a month in an attempt to disrupt government air raids, a senior rebel said on Sunday.
Residents of El Fasher confirmed they heard explosions for about one hour around midnight on Friday but the army described the incident as a clash between its forces and rebels outside the town.
"Basically it sounded like mortar fire," with eight or 10 intermittent explosions which appeared to be coming from just west of the town, one resident said, asking not to be identified.
The Sudan Liberation Army's Minni Minnawi faction said it targeted a military facility on the edge of El Fasher airport, where air force planes are based.
"We want to stop these airplanes which are escalating bombing in East Jebel Marra," a mountainous area about 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of El Fasher, said Hussain Minnawi, a member of the rebels' political bureau.
The airport remained open on Sunday.
Sawarmi Khaled Saad, the Sudanese army spokesman, said the clash occured 25 kilometres from El Fasher as Minnawi's forces were on their way to attack the town's defences.
"Our troops defeated them. They ran away, leaving huge quantities of ammunition," and were targeted by army artillery as they fled, the official SUNA news agency quoted him as saying.
El Fasher is the headquarters of the African Union-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the world's largest peacekeeping operation, which last week expressed "grave concern" about escalating violence.
Since July, civilians have been increasingly at risk from inter-communal fighting, harassment by militia groups and sporadic clashes between rebels and government troops, particularly in North Darfur, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in a quarterly report issued on October 16.
The Sudan Liberation Army and other ethnic rebels began their uprising against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003.
Though violence is down from its peak, various overlapping conflicts continue in the form of banditry, inter-Arab and tribal disputes as well as government-rebel clashes in the far-west region.© ANP/AFP