Sudan says SLA a target, rejoining rebel allies

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Friday, 3 December 2010 20:18 GMT

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* Sudan says Minnawi&${esc.hash}39;s SLA moving south to join other rebels

* Renewed clashes would be a blow to peace process

* SLA the only major group to sign peace deal

KHARTOUM, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Sudan&${esc.hash}39;s army said on Friday rebel leader Minni Minnawi&${esc.hash}39;s Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) -- the only Darfur insurgent group to sign a peace deal with Khartoum -- was now a military target.

"A large portion of Minnawi&${esc.hash}39;s forces have moved from the areas assigned to them under the agreement with weapons and vehicles and they are moving towards the south," the army spokesman, al-Sawarmi Khaled, said.

Any clashes between the army and the SLA would be a severe major blow to Darfur&${esc.hash}39;s stalling peace process, with other rebel groups sceptical of Khartoum&${esc.hash}39;s willingness to honour any accord they may sign.

"We consider them a target now. We are searching for them and will engage them," he said, adding the SLA intended to rejoin their former rebel allies in the south.

The SLA denied its troops were moving towards south Sudan.

"These troop movements are purely administrative," said SLA spokesman Adil Mahjoub. "They want to return us to square one."

An attack on SLA forces would be "a declaration of war", he added.

Of the three Darfur rebel groups involved in the 2006 peace talks in Nigeria&${esc.hash}39;s capital Abuja, the SLA was the only one to sign an agreement. The other groups are still fighting the government in Sudan&${esc.hash}39;s west.

Little of the 2006 deal was implemented and Minnawi has taken refuge in the southern Sudanese capital Juba, with Khartoum accusing him of moving to join forces with other rebel groups.

Darfur&${esc.hash}39;s conflict has cost 300,000 lives in a crisis sparked by Khartoum&${esc.hash}39;s brutal counter-insurgency campaign, with banditry and kidnapping now common and South Sudan expected to become an independent state after a Jan. 9 referendum on secession.

Mahjoub added Khartoum had frozen the accounts of Darfur&${esc.hash}39;s regional authority, which Minnawi headed after the 2006 deal.

"We cannot pay any salaries -- these are employees of the Sudanese state," he said.

Rebel disunity and continued military action have hindered numerous rounds of peace talks since 2004 and Khartoum has regained most of the towns lost since the conflict began in 2003. (Reporting by Opheera McDoom; editing by Ron Askew)

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