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Monday, December 8, 2008

Sudan building up troops to counter challenge by rebels in Darfour

CAIRO — Sudan is staging a military buildup as rebels have staked their claims to oil-rich regions of the country.

Officials said the Khartoum regime was deploying thousands of troops in the oil region in central Sudan, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the buildup in the South Kordofan province was meant to block any attack by Sudanese rebels based in the war-torn Darfour province.

"There is a growing threat by the rebels to this region," an official said.

South Kordofan borders Darfour and Abyei, areas of increasing fighting with forces loyal to the Khartoum region. The semi-autonomous government in southern Sudan has claimed the oil-rich area of Abyei. Sudan plans to increase its oil production from 500,000 to 600,000 barrels per day in 2009.

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Officials said six battalions, or about 2,500 troops, were deployed in South Kordofan. They said military buildup began in mid-November 2008 in wake of rebel attacks, particularly by the Justice and Equality Movement, around Abyei.

"The aim is to stop the feverish attempts of JEM to transfer its activities to the state of South Kordofan," another Sudanese official told the official Sudanese News Agency.

Officials said JEM has been sending troops from Darfour to South Kordofan in what appeared to mark preparations for a new rebel offensive. They said JEM has sought to expand operations from Darfour to strategic areas around Sudan. In May 2008, JEM sent thousands of fighters to attack Khartoum.

A Khartoum government statement said the military deployment was not aimed against the southern-based Sudanese People's Liberation Army. SPLA has accused Khartoum of violating its peace agreement in 2005.

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