Rebel occupation of southern Darfur ends

A rare 10-day rebel occupation of southern Darfur ended on Wednesday when the Sudanese army announced it "liberated" the area but the insurgents said they withdrew in the face of massive force.

"Today SAF liberated Muhagiriya," Sudan Armed Forces spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad told AFP.

The Sudan Liberation Army's Minni Minnawi faction on April 6 began their occupation of Muhagiriya and Labado, two communities strategically located about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of the South Darfur state capital Nyala, one of Sudan's largest cities.

Darfur's insurgents normally stage hit-and-run attacks.

"Yes, we withdrew from Muhagiriya and Labado," said rebel spokesman Abdullah Moursal.

He said the government had sent two "huge" convoys of troops, one from the west and one from the east, and these were backed by air strikes.

The government regained control of Labado on Tuesday after fierce fighting which resulted in the deaths of four civilians and the wounding of six others, the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission UNAMID said.

Thousands of civilians had sought shelter around peacekeepers' camps in the district since the initial fighting, and the UN has been calling for access to assist them.

Minnawi and other ethnic rebels in Sudan's far-western Darfur region rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003.

Rebel splinter factions signed a 2011 peace deal with the government but Minnawi and other major insurgent groups rejected the agreement.

While the worst of the violence has long passed, instability has been complicated by inter-Arab fighting, kidnappings, carjackings and other crimes, many suspected to be the work of government-linked militia and paramilitary groups.