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More fighting in Sudan border area, key town quiet

Sep 5, 2011, 6:01 p.m.

By Ulf Laessing

DAMAZIN, Sudan (Reuters) - Sudanese government troops and groups allied to South Sudan have continued to skirmish along their joint border, but life has returned to normal in some border areas, a northern government official said.

Last week, fighting broke out in Blue Nile state between Sudan's army and groups allied to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the dominant force in newly independent South Sudan.

More than 20 people have been killed since Thursday in Blue Nile bordering the northern state of South Kordofan which has also seen much violence between the army and SPLM fighters.

The SPLM's northern wing, the SPLM-N, fought with the south before a 2005 peace deal that led to South Sudan's independence in July. It has supporters in north Sudan, particularly the border areas.

Blue Nile Military Governor Yahia Mohammed Kheir said on Monday that life in the provincial capital Damazin had returned to normal after water and electricity supplies were restored and shops started to reopen.

But he said fighting was continuing south of Damazin where the army was fighting groups allied to the SPLM.

"Fighting is going on 30 km (19 miles) to the south but in the west and north and east (of Blue Nile state) the situation is very calm," he said while touring with reporters through the city where soldiers were present everywhere. "Damazin is totally secure and stable."

On Friday, Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir appointed Kheir as temporary military ruler after firing the elected SPLM-N governor Malik Agar Khartoum blames for the violence. The SPLM says the north is responsible for the fighting.

When asked when the army would end military operations, Kheir said: "We would like to end military operations today. We are now clearing areas where SPLA fighters are still present."

He blamed Agar and South Sudan for the fighting but said the government was willing to integrate SPLM fighters into the army as agreed under recent bilateral talks in Ethiopia if they surrendered.

"We don't want this war. We want peace," he said. "The situation needs a political solution coming from inside Sudan."

Asked if there could be dialogue with the SPLM-N like previously he said: "If the SPLM is coming back to the negotiating table, why would we not talk to them?"

Officials told reporters 12 soldiers, six policemen and three citizens had been killed in fighting in Damazin since last week.

On Sunday, SPLM-N Secretary-General Yasir Arman said Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) "has banned the SPLM as a political party and arrested many civilian leaders of the SPLM."

Analysts say Sudan's government in Khartoum is trying to strike against the rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile before they become a serious political and military threat. The fighting risks drawing South Sudan into a proxy war.

Ending violence in the border areas is one of several major issues north and south still need to settle. Both sides also have not agreed yet on how to divide oil revenues and other assets.

(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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