By Opheera McDoom

Debbis - Commanders of a Sudan Liberation Army faction said followers of rival Darfur rebel leader Minni Arcua Minnawi attacked their base and kidnapped fighters who refused to back a peace plan for the region.

Under intense pressure, Minnawi signed a peace deal with the Sudanese government on May 5 in the Nigerian capital Abuja to end three years of fighting in Darfur.

But rival SLA faction leader Abdel Wahed Mohamed al-Nur and the other main rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), refused to sign saying it did not meet basic demands.

Nur's commanders say since returning last week to Darfur, Minnawi has tried to force them to join the peace deal. They say he attacked their base in Bir Mazza, near Debbis about 150km north-west of el-Fasher.

"They attacked Bir Mazza on May 24, but we repelled them," Jar el-Naby, SLA spokesperson in the area, told reporters on Tuesday.

The African Union monitoring a shaky truce in Darfur verified clashes took place and that commanders in Bir Mazza said they were loyal to Nur.

The commanders in Bir Mazza also said Minnawi's group abducted 15 men, who were tortured for not agreeing with Minnawi.

The AU could not confirm who had abducted the men. But 11 had been released and the AU took pictures of their injuries which resulted from beatings with canes, ropes tied so tight they cut into the skin, and pistol whippings which left faces bruised and swollen.

The other men, including the SLA's elderly and respected humanitarian coordinator, Suleiman Adam Jamous, were still being detained, Naby said. He added Minnawi had arrested people who did not agree with the peace deal in other areas too.

Minnawi said he went to Bir Mazza on a normal patrol, when he met rebels from neighbouring Chad and fought them.

Whatever the truth, the local AU commander monitoring the region said it was a violation of the May 5 deal for Minnawi to be entering areas not under his control. "That I regard as a ceasefire violation," said Richard Lourens.

Commanders allied to Nur are refusing to recognise the Darfur peace deal and warn Minnawi not to risk his life by venturing into their area of control in the vast region.

"Minni cannot enter here and if he does people will be killed," said Ismail Adam, the commander in Debbis, in north Darfur. "This is an individual peace and does not belong to the people of Darfur," he says.

They want a role in disarming Arab militias known as Janjaweed, more political posts and more compensation for the more than three million people affected by the conflict.

Minnawi has more firepower on the ground, but Nur is from the west's largest tribe the Fur and, as founding member of the SLA, thousands have demonstrated almost daily in Darfur and Khartoum in his favour and against the deal.

In Debbis village, civilians expressed hatred for Minnawi and his Zaghawa tribe, saying they had attacked them.

"The Zaghawa killed my sons," said Kaltouma Mohamed Hassan. "Minni can never come here," the 50-year-old woman said. "His peace is not ours."

Debbis residents walk four hours to the nearest well to fetch water and are accompanied by SLA to prevent attacks by Zaghawa and Arab militias. But their farms are out of reach, as Arab militia graze their cattle near there.