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Sudan 4thLd-Writethru 05-13

Sudan: 200 died in Darfur rebel raid near Khartoum

Eds: AMs. UPDATES with UN Security Council condemning rebel attack.

By MOHAMED OSMAN

Associated Press Writer

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — More that 200 people were killed in fighting around Sudan’s capital over the weekend, the defense minister announced Tuesday in the first official comment on casualties during the assault by Darfur rebels.

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Gen. Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein told parliament that the attackers sent by the rebel Justice and Equality Movement suffered a crushing defeat, with at least two-thirds of the their 180 vehicles destroyed, according to the official SUNA news agency.

Sudanese were shocked by the rebel assault on the outskirts of Khartoum, hundreds of miles from their bases in the west. The raid was the closest that Darfur’s rebels have gotten to the seat of the government.

The defense minister said 93 soldiers and 13 policemen died in the weekend fighting in Khartoum’s twin city, Omdurman, along with 30 civilians. He said 90 rebel bodies had been found so far, but more were scattered outside the city.

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday strongly condemned the rebel attack. In a statement, the council urged "restraint by all parties, and in particular warns that no retaliatory action should be taken against civilian populations."

The general said his troops had been prepared to fight the rebels far from the city, but he charged that the army’s location was revealed by "huge numbers of fifth columnists" from factions trying to undermine the government.

The rebels admitted they had been defeated but promised further attacks on the capital unless the government deals with the festering situation in Darfur, where 200,000 people have died in a conflict that began five years ago.

"JEM might have lost the Khartoum battle and pulled out in dignity ... but it has not lost the war," the group’s deputy chairman, Mahmoud Suleiman, said in a statement given to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Life was gradually returning to normal Tuesday, with banks, shops and markets open for business for the first time since the attack. Checkpoints remained in place, however, as troops searched for any rebels remaining in the city, including their leader, Khalil Ibrahim.

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The government doubled its bounty for Ibrahim on Tuesday to nearly $250,000 for anyone contributing to the rebel leader’s arrest.

State media reported the reward was 500 million new Sudanese pounds, which is the equivalent of $246 million, but Bakri Mullah, secretary-general of the External Information Office, explained to the AP that the reward was actually in old Sudanese pounds, or about $246,000.

Sudan re-valued its currency more than a year ago and the new pound is worth 1,000 times the old one.

According to witnesses cited by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, at least 100 people had been arrested at checkpoints and in house-to-house searches since the attack, as security forces look for suspected rebels.

"Given Khartoum’s record of abuse, there is grave cause for concern about the fate of those detained," Georgette Gagnon, the group’s Africa director, said in a statement late Monday.

In a telephone interview with the AP on Monday, Ibrahim vowed to keep up his offensive, saying he can exhaust the army by fighting it across Africa’s largest nation. He said he was in Omdurman with his troops.

Ibrahim’s movement has emerged as the most effective rebel group in Darfur, where ethnic Africans took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in 2003 to fight discrimination. The conflict has displaced more than 2.5 million people.

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