Khartoum - A political party leader in Sudan's North Darfur state was killed in an ambush on Monday, official media said, after peacekeepers expressed grave concern about an upsurge of violence.

The district head of the Justice Party died and another official was wounded in the attack as they travelled from El Fasher, the state capital, to the party leader's home district of Kebkabiya, about 150km west, the SUNA news agency said. It did not identify the victims.

“Their car was ambushed by unidentified armed groups,” SUNA said.

Since July, civilians have been increasingly at risk from inter-communal fighting, harassment by militias and sporadic clashes between rebels and troops, particularly in North Darfur, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in a quarterly report issued on October 16.

The latest killing came after the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said “escalating violence has become a matter of grave concern”.

UNAMID issued its statement after fighting on Friday between government forces and “an armed group” near Shangil Tobay, about 50km south of El Fasher.

The fighting there “is part of a larger pattern of conflict in the area in recent months”, UNAMID said.

Rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said earlier that on Friday they attacked a large government convoy travelling north from Shangil Tobay.

They said they captured one armoured vehicle and destroyed others, while seizing trucks and cars as well as equipment, weapons and ammunition.

JEM said its forces worked with the Sudan Liberation Army's Minni Minnawi faction in the attack which “captured a number of government troops” and inflicted heavy losses.

The rebels gave no specifics about casualties.

Sudan's army spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

“Following the fighting, UNAMID airlifted, upon request, injured combatants... to El Fasher for further treatment,” UNAMID said without specifying how many people were hurt or which side they were from.

The mission has previously provided similar assistance to wounded combatants from both sides, it said.

Ethnic rebels from JEM and the Sudan Liberation Army began their uprising against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003.

Though violence is down from its peak, various overlapping conflicts continue in the form of banditry, inter-Arab and tribal disputes as well as government-rebel clashes in the far-west region. - Sapa-AFP