Sudan Rebels Attack Oilfield, Moving Outside Darfur

KHARTOUM, Nov 27, 2006 (AP)

Darfur rebels have attacked an oil field in Southern Kordofan, making a rare eastward extension of their campaign toward central Sudan, the rebels and government said Monday.

The National Redemption Front said its fighters had seized the Abu Jabra oil field on the edge of South Darfur and Southern Kordofan Sunday.

"The government garrison guarding the oil field was totally destroyed," the NRF said in a statement. "Numerous soldiers, including high ranking officers and generals, have surrendered."

But the Sudanese military said its forces had repelled the attack and were in full control of the field.

The army "inflicted heavy causalities on the rebels, who withdrew from the area," said a military spokesman.

The NRF, a rebel alliance that opposes the May peace agreement, also said it shot down a military helicopter and captured a "substantial amount of weapons, ammunitions, anti-aircraft missiles and military vehicles."

But the government forces denied this, saying the rebels had tried to extend Darfur's violence to other parts of Sudan but had failed.

"To put it simply, they did not achieve what they were looking for," the military spokesman said.

The NRF stronghold has traditionally been in Northern Darfur, and its conducting a strike on the border South Darfur and Southern Kordofan shows a considerable leap in range.

A Sudanese official in the oil industry said the state-owned Abu Jabra field produces up to 10,000 barrels per day - a relatively small output.

"The capacities seem to have been significantly damaged, but it won't affect Sudan's production overall," the official said.

Sudanese officials say the country produces about 500,000 b/d and that oil revenue should be at least $4 billion this year, more than half of the government's income.

Most of Sudan's oil reserves are in the south of the country, which is now semi-autonomous under a separate peace agreement that southern rebels signed with the government in January 2005.

Sunday's raid on the oil field came amid heightened violence in Darfur, where pro-government janjaweed militia have been accused by the U.N. of forcing 60,000 people to flee their homes this month.

After the Abu Jabra attack, South Darfur officials accused Minni Minnawi, the one rebel chief who signed the May peace accord and subsequently took a government position, of having ceded terrain to the NRF to facilitate attacks.

But the NRF's head of strategic planning, Abdullahi el-Tom, denied this, telling The Associated Press saying his group had occupied Minnawi's territory in South Darfur by force.

In July, NRF rebels ventured east of Darfur and attacked the Northern Kordofan town of Hamarat Sheikh, killing over a dozen people.

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