KHARTOUM: Sudan's armed forces attacked rebels near the capital of the oil-producing South Kordofan state on Monday, killing 18 people, a state-linked website said, in an escalation of recent fighting on several fronts in Sudan's borderlands.
Sudan's government is battling an alliance of rebels in the western region of Darfur and the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile which both border Khartoum's arch rival South Sudan.
The fighting is overshadowing current talks between Sudan and South Sudan in Ethiopia over a border security agreement to end hostilities after both nations came close to war in April.
Sudan accuses South Sudan of supporting the rebels in the disputed border region, while Juba says Khartoum funds militias in South Sudan. Diplomats say both allegations are credible.
South Sudan split from Sudan last year under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war, but the two have remained at odds over a range of issues.
Sudan's army spokesman al-Sawarmi Khalid said his forces had attacked rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) in Mashar and Dluka south of Kadugli, the state capital of South Kordofan, the Sudanese Media Center (SMC) said.
"The armed forces cleansed (the areas) on a large scale. Eighteen rebels were killed and a large number of them wounded," Khalid told the state-linked SMC website.
There was no immediate comment from the rebels. The SPLM-North and a Darfur rebel group fought with the army in a different part of South Kordofan and also Darfur on Thursday, killing dozens of people, army and rebels said.
On another front, Darfuri rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which were involved in Thursday's fighting, said they had attacked on Sunday an army convoy in an area called "Kilometer 50" in the north of South Kordofan.
"We killed tens of soldiers. We now completely control the area," JEM spokesman Jibril Adam said.
But army spokesman Sawarmi told Reuters there had been no fighting in the area. "This region is completely under government control."
The often conflicting claims are impossible to verify due to a lack of access for foreign media to the remote border areas.