Sudan's army on Tuesday denied any connection with unrest in the Hashaba region of Darfur, where a peacekeeper died in an ambush after the US said dozens of civilians were killed.
Sawarmi Khaled Saad, the army spokesman, also offered the military's "full cooperation" with the peacekeepers, who have said government restrictions prevented them from reaching the Hashaba area in late September.
Saad's statements were the army's first substantive comment on what happened in Hashaba, northwest of the North Darfur state capital El Fasher, where more than 70 civilians died in September from rebel-government fighting and aerial bombardments, the United States said.
A dispute over land use triggered clashes between Arab nomads and ethnic Tunjur farmers before fighting reportedly escalated after government and rebel forces became involved, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in an October report.
Saad "affirmed that the armed forces have nothing to do with the recent incidents" around Hashaba, the state SUNA news agency quoted him as saying.
He said the conflict is a tribal one with which the military has no connection, and he said rebels in the area had aimed to settle old scores with Arab tribes.
Since July civilians have been increasingly at risk, particularly in North Darfur, from inter-communal fighting, harassment by militia groups and sporadic rebel-government clashes, Ban said.
Tensions escalated when tribal militia aligned to the government became involved, along with the anti-regime rebels.
Peacekeepers from the African Union-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) were prevented from reaching the Hashaba area three times in late September, due to government restrictions blamed on insecurity, Ban said.
On October 17, a UNAMID convoy on its way there for an assessment was ambushed by unidentified attackers, killing one peacekeeper and wounding three.
Anti-government rebels said the incident was linked to militia.
The assailants used anti-tank guns and other high-calibre weapons in what may have been an attempt to prevent peacekeepers from reaching Hashaba, UNAMID said.
Saad made no mention of the ambush but said the military has a duty to offer "advice and protection" to UNAMID.
"The spokesman of the armed forces affirmed their full cooperation with the international peacekeeping forces in order to put an end (to) any rebellion... that targets the security and safety of people," SUNA said.
Though violence is down from its peak, various overlapping conflicts persist in the far-west Darfur region nine years after ethnic rebels rose against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government.© ANP/AFP