A Darfur rebel faction said it attacked a town in West Darfur state on Tuesday, killing 37 soldiers and police, to push for its inclusion in peace talks due to open in the Nigerian capital Abuja later in the day.
The Sudanese army confirmed troop movements in the area where the rebels said they carried out their attack but gave no further details. A source in the aid community confirmed an attack on a police station in the town of Sirba and said three policemen had been wounded.
The rebels, the breakaway National Movement for Reform and Development, (NMRD) are not represented at the Abuja talks under African Union (AU) mediation.
AU mediator Sam Ibok said the Abuja team would seek information from their colleagues in Sudan before issuing any reaction to the attack, adding that causing mayhem in Darfur was not a criterion for inclusion in the peace talks.
"We do not subscribe to the fact that somebody has to kill people in Darfur to have a place at the talks. It's a peaceful process and we do not want to link it to violence," he told Reuters in Abuja.
"All the people of Darfur will have a chance to express themselves in the peace process and there will be a time to involve groups like the NMRD, but not until the talks have made sufficient progress," he added.
The NMRD say they no longer respect a ceasefire they signed with the government, after Sudanese armed forces attacked their positions near the border with Chad.
"For one year we are cooperating with the African Union and still we are not part of the negotiations in Abuja," he said, giving that as the reason why the group attacked the town.
Abdallah said the group was also retaliating to government strikes on their bases in the Jabel Moun area near the Chadian border earlier this month.