Sudanese government launches offensive in south

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Sudanese government forces have launched a massive offensive in three southern provinces, forcing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, rebel and aid agency officials said Tuesday.

The Sudan People's Liberation Army said in a statement that mechanized infantry columns supported by helicopter gunships began attacking rebel-held villages on Saturday.

"Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced. It is not yet possible to determine the number of people killed in the attack. A large number of livestock has been looted," rebel spokesman Samson Kwaje said. The Sudan People's Liberation Army has been at war with the government since 1983. Although the war often is simplified as one that pits Christian and animist southerners against Arab Muslim northerners, struggles for power and competition for control over major oil fields also fuel the fighting.

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