DARFUR - Clashes between Sudanese forces and residents of a Darfur camp for the displaced killed three people Friday, the UN said, as President Omar al-Bashir urged reconciliation in the war-torn region.
Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on genocide and war crimes charges related to the Darfur conflict, is touring the region ahead of a US decision next month on whether to permanently lift a decades-old trade embargo on Sudan.
On Friday, residents of Camp Kalma in South Darfur who were protesting against Bashir's visit to the region clashed with government forces, with three residents killed and 26 wounded, the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said in a statement.
"I call upon everyone involved in this situation to restore calm as soon as possible," mission chief Jeremiah Mamabolo said.
Thick smoke billowed from the camp as police in riot gear deployed outside and UN ambulances ferried the wounded to clinics, according to an AFP photographer taken to Darfur by the authorities to cover Bashir's visit.
The authorities offered a different version of the incident, saying a group of residents fired from inside the camp at security forces deployed to secure Bashir's visit.
"After that clashes erupted inside the camp between those who supported the visit and those who opposed, in which two residents of the camp were killed," a statement by the South Darfur government said.
Rebel groups blamed the authorities, saying Bashir himself should take responsibility for the clashes.
"Bashir witnessed the crime, he saw his troops firing on the IDPs (internally displaced people)," the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a prominent rebel group, said in a statement.
"This incident is part of attacking civilians and part of a government policy to force IDPs to leave the camps."
- Bashir vows support -
Camp Kalma houses more than 125,000 people displaced by the conflict, and as Friday's clashes took place, Bashir addressed a gathering in a nearby village and vowed to back reconciliation efforts in the region.
"I want the world to hear that we are in Shattaya and we are with the people of Shattaya," Bashir said in the village, where pitched battles between government forces and rebels broke out when the Darfur conflict erupted in 2003.
"I want to thank the people of Shattaya for their reconciliation, and we will continue supporting you until the last displaced person returns to his home and his farm."
Global rights groups say that villages such as Shattaya were the scenes of war crimes when government forces launched their counter-insurgency operations against rebel groups.
The ICC, based in The Hague, says Sudanese forces allegedly carried out "unlawful attacks, followed by systematic acts of pillage, on towns and villages, mainly inhabited by civilians belonging to the (African) Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes" in Darfur.
The Darfur conflict began when ethnic African minority rebels took up arms against Bashir's Arab-dominated government, accusing it of economic and political marginalisation.
The United Nations says the conflict has killed about 300,000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million, most of whom now live in large camps.
More than a decade of conflict has left Darfur awash with weapons in the hands of tribal militias, including those backed by government forces.
Bashir has been urging locals to give up their arms as he tours the region, saying that the conflict has ended.
On October 12, US President Donald Trump is due to decide whether to permanently lift American sanctions against Sudan.
Although Washington imposed the sanctions in 1997 over Khartoum's alleged support for Islamist militant groups, it argues that the conflict in Darfur has been a factor in keeping them in place.