KHARTOUM: Ten members of Sudan's controversial counter-insurgency unit have been killed in clashes with fighters loyal to a powerful militia leader in war-torn Darfur, the official SUNA news agency reported Sunday.
Clashes between troops from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and fighters loyal to Musa Hilal erupted when a unit of RSF was ambushed near the hometown of Hilal in the state of North Darfur.
"An RSF commander and nine other members were martyred when they were ambushed near Mustariaha," SUNA reported. Mustariaha is the hometown and bastion of Hilal, whose fighters have reportedly clashed with RSF troops in Darfur several times in recent months.
The RSF commander and nine others were "ambushed by outlaws" when they had gone to check another ambush in the same area, the report said, referring to Hilal's fighters as outlaws.
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"The incident occurred when the RSF unit was in the area as part of the government's arms collection programme," it said. A separate statement issued by RSF confirmed the death toll.
Tribal sources in the region said the clashes were fierce as both sides used light and heavy weapons. Darfur, a region of the size of France, has been awash with weapons since 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against President Omar al-Bashir's Arab-dominated government, accusing it of economic and political marginalisation.
The weapons are held by tribal militias, including some backed by government forces, and authorities now want them to be surrendered claiming that the conflict has ended.
Hilal -- a former aide of Bashir -- and his fighters have refused to surrender their arms. During the initial years of the conflict in Darfur, Hilal and his gunmen had fought on the side of government forces against rebels in the region. But a rift erupted between him and the government a few years ago when he accused Khartoum of ignoring his political demands.
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