Khartoum - Fighting over control of a gold mine in Sudan's Darfur region has killed more than 500 people and destroyed 68 villages since January, a Sudanese lawmaker said on Monday, sharply increasing estimates of the casualties from the violence.

Law and order has collapsed across the arid western region since mainly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the Arab-led government in Khartoum in 2003, accusing it of neglecting Darfur.

Arab tribes in the region, many of whom were armed by the government to quell the Darfur insurgency, turned their guns on each other in January in battles for control of a gold mine and other resources.

The United Nations earlier said the clashes between the Bani Hussein and Rizeigat tribes in Jebel Amer in North Darfur had killed more than 100.

On Monday, Adam Sheikha, a lawmaker for the El Sireaf area that includes the mine, told reporters 510 people had been killed and 865 wounded since the outbreak of violence - the first estimates covering the whole of the recent fighting to come from a member of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party.

“Fifteen women were raped, 68 villages were completely and 120 others partially burned down” and around 20 000 displaced families urgently needed food, added Sheikha.

He said an attack on El Sireaf town had used government-issued weapons and some of them had been on government salaries.

The town is currently crowded with around 60 000 people who fled their homes when fighting broke out in January, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Sudan, Ali al-Zaatari, said in a statement.

More could flee unless “the fighting is brought to a complete halt and a lasting solution to the conflict is found”, Zaatari added.

The joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, UNAMID, said it had airlifted 37 wounded civilians from El Sireaf on Sunday.

Human rights groups and the United Nations estimate hundreds of thousands of people have died in the Darfur conflict. The government says around 10 000 people were killed.

Violence ebbed from the peak of the revolt in 2004 but has picked up again in recent months.

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and some aides to face charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur. They deny the charges and refuse to recognise the court.

Events in Darfur are hard to verify as Sudan restricts travel by journalists, aid workers and diplomats. In January, authorities denied Reuters a travel permit to attend a government-sponsored disarmament conference in West Darfur. - Reuters