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Khartoum - Heavy fighting has broken out between two tribes over a gold mine in Sudan's Darfur region, killing several people and forcing authorities to close the mine, tribal leaders and state media said on Wednesday.
Law and order has collapsed in most parts of Darfur, an arid region in Sudan's west, since mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms in 2003 against the government in Khartoum, which they accuse of oppressive policies.
Fighting has ebbed from its peak in 2004 but continuing conflict and divisions among rebels have scuppered several rounds of peace talks.
Half a million artisan miners have joined a gold rush across Sudan, according to the government, which estimates it made $2.5 billion from gold exports last year.
Fighting between the Rizeigat and Bani Hussein, two Arab tribes, broke out on Saturday over who should be allowed to use a mine near Kabkabiya in North Darfur.
“A row between some individuals has turned into battles ... Fighting is still ongoing,” Omar Ali Ahad, a leader of the Bani Hussein tribe, told Reuters.
“It's a tragedy. I don't have numbers yet but I can say a large number of people have been killed and wounded so far.”
Rizeigat tribesmen were attacking with weapons including rocket-propelled grenades. “We only have Kalashnikov (automatic rifles) to fight back,” Ahad said.
Mohammed Aissa Aliu, a Rizeigat leader, said elders of his tribe were trying to stop the fighting. “We have sent a delegation to mediate,” he said.
“The situation is unacceptable.”
Sudan's state radio said authorities closed the mine on Wednesday.
Human rights groups have accused Sudan's government of arming Arab tribes such as the Rizeigat when it moved to quell the Darfur rebellion in 2003.
Rizeigat tribesmen also fought alongside the army during decades of civil war between Khartoum and the South, which seceded in 2011 after a peace deal in 2005.
Diplomats said Sudan had failed to disarm allied tribes as required under an agreement between Sudan and small rebel groups in 2011. The large rebel groups have refused to join the deal.
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and other Sudanese officials for masterminding war crimes in Darfur. They deny the charges and refuse to recognise the court.
Human rights groups and the United Nations estimate that hundreds of thousands of people have died in Darfur's conflict, although exact tolls are controversial. The government says around 10 000 people have died. - Reuters