Khartoum - Rebels in Sudan's oil-producing state of South Kordofan on Thursday vowed to keep up their fight against the army regardless of a Khartoum-Juba deal aimed at cutting South Sudanese support for the insurgency.
“We have our cause. We will fight for that, not because of South Sudan. You cannot deny the rights of the people,” said Arnu Ngutulu Lodi, spokesman for the ethnic and religious-minority Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N).
“We will continue,” he told AFP in a telephone interview.
He was speaking after an unprecedented rebel artillery barrage on Monday targeted Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan. Seven people were killed, according to official media.
The attack coincided with talks there between Sudan's ruling National Congress Party and others about how to end the war which the UN says has displaced or severely affected hundreds of thousands of people.
Monday's shelling also came after Sudan's Islamist regime and South Sudan in late September signed deals on security and cooperation that they hailed as ending their countries' conflict.
The neighbours fought along their undemarcated frontier in March and April, sparking fears of a wider war and leading to a UN Security Council resolution ordering a ceasefire and the settlement of unresolved issues.
Lodi said the insurgents regret any civilian casualties that may have been caused by the shelling of Kadugli. “We are trying to defend them,” he said of the town's residents.
“We regret that,” Lodi said. “We are very sorry if there is any loss, a single one.”
The United Nations condemned the attack, calling it an indiscriminate and reprehensible act, particularly after a rebel shell landed in the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) compound but failed to explode.
But Lodi said the shelling targeted troops after the army bombed rebel positions.
There are no reliable figures on how many people have died in aerial bombing, shelling and firefights across South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where the SPLM-N began their insurgencies in June and September last year.
But the UN has reported a steadily increasing number of hungry people fleeing the warzone for South Sudan, where more than 173 000 are now encamped.
Lodi said government aircraft bombed farmland around Kadugli on Wednesday evening, without causing casualties.
The army spokesman could not be reached for comment but on Wednesday denied striking insurgent positions.
Lodi denied that the rebel shelling, which continued Tuesday and Wednesday, aimed at disrupting the Kadugli government-run peace conference, as claimed by analysts and the army.
SUNA, the state's official news agency, said the conference ended Wednesday with a condemnation of the rebels' “heinous aggression... against innocent people.”
It also called for an immediate ceasefire “to create a suitable atmosphere for negotiations and to confirm disengagement between SPLM-North sector and South Sudan,” SUNA reported.
SPLM-N rebels battled alongside insurgents from southern Sudan who waged a 22-year civil war which ended in a 2005 peace deal leading to South Sudan's independence last July.
Among the deals reached in Addis Ababa is agreement on a demilitarised border buffer zone designed to cut support for SPLM-N.
Khartoum accuses Juba of backing the insurgents, and the South in turn says Sudan has armed rebels in its territory.
A Sudan analyst on Thursday described the surprise shelling as “a show of strength... a big bang” to get international attention, with more high-profile attacks likely.
“Everybody is focused on Syria,” said Lodi. “When we want to stand for our rights, people are not standing with us.” - Sapa-AFP