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Elite troops deployed in Sudan's second-largest city


Elite troops have been deployed in Sudan's second-largest city after days of violence among members of the security forces, as residents begin the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in fear of new clashes.

An AFP correspondent was the first member of a foreign news organisation to arrive in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, since the worst outbreak of urban warfare in the western region in recent memory.

Most fighting in Darfur has occurred in poverty-stricken rural regions and smaller communities.

State officials blamed "differences" among members of the security forces for the battles which began in Nyala on July 3, killing and wounding about 30 people, according to official media.

Travelling into the city about six kilometres (four miles) from Nyala airport, the correspondent counted about 12 gun-mounted sport utility vehicles belonging to the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) -- the country's most elite forces, which are separate from the army.

Up to 10 troops were stationed with each gun car.

"It is calm but we don't trust this calm because everyone has weapons, and they are not under control. They can use them at any time," one resident said, afraid to give his name.

Fighting erupted in Nyala last week when security forces allegedly killed a notorious local bandit who also belonged to the paramilitary Central Reserve Police.

Darfuri members of the CRP formerly belonged to the Janjaweed, a government-backed militia that shocked the world with atrocities against ethnic minority civilians suspected of supporting rebels.

The rebels began their uprising against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime in 2003.

Security problems have been compounded by inter-tribal fighting, kidnappings, carjackings and other crimes, many suspected to be the work of government-linked militia and paramilitary groups.

A curfew is in effect from midnight but masked gunmen kidnapped a local businessman, Issa Adam, on Tuesday night as he drove with his family, a relative said.

Adam operates a large shop in one of the city's main markets, selling sorghum and other essential commodities, the relative said.

Signs of recent fighting are obvious in the city.

Behind the locked gates of a compound belonging to the aid group World Vision, numerous small holes from bullets or shrapnel could be seen in the walls. A suspected rocket-propelled grenade exploded there last Thursday, killing two Sudanese employees and critically wounded a third.

The two-storey courthouse, one of Nyala's largest buildings, is also bullet-scarred, as is Nyala's best hotel, the Coral.

"When I was preparing my things to start work, people shouted: 'They are coming'. And we heard shooting," said a woman who runs a market tea and coffee stand, recounting the recent unrest.

"We had to gather everything and run away," she said. "We want the government to give us security."

She and other Nyala residents face hardship as they begin the Ramadan month of dawn-to-dusk fasting.

They said the city has been without electricity for two days.

There were no sounds of shooting early Wednesday evening, only the roar of generators providing power to some buildings as residents gathered in the darkened streets to break their fast together, according to tradition.

A taxi driver reported the price of petrol at 50 Sudanese pounds ($7) a gallon (4.5 litres), or about four times the price in the capital Khartoum.

Fuel reaching Nyala is subject to attack during its overland journey across Darfur.

AFP saw one petrol station partly-burned and shut.

Others remained open but cars and three-wheeled taxis queued for about one kilometre (more than half a mile) waiting to buy fuel, the correspondent reported.

Despite the tensions, people are trying to carry on with their lives.

Students walked to and from school in the streets.

One of the main markets was open.

But another commercial area remained shut after it was burned and looted on Sunday during renewed fighting.

That same day Ali Kushayb, a former commander of the Janjaweed, was wounded during an attack which reportedly killed two of his men, local sources said.

Kushayb is wanted on 51 counts by The Hague-based International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed against Darfur civilians in 2003 and 2004.

Security has worsened in Darfur this year, the United Nations says.