(Updates with peacekeepers’ statement, changes dateline)
By Andrew Heavens
KHARTOUM, May 13 (Reuters) - Peacekeepers said they saw Sudanese government aircraft bombing suspected rebel positions in the western Darfur region on Wednesday, days after negotiations between Khartoum and the insurgents resumed.
But Sudan’s armed forces denied the reports, saying they had not carried out any out any operations around the town of Umm Baru, in North Darfur, the scene of recent clashes between the rebel Justice and Equality Movement and a group of former rebels backed by the government.
Members from the joint U.N./African Union UNAMID peacekeeping force said they heard five shell explosions in territory north of the town.
"UNAMID forces observed Sudanese Government aircraft bombing targets north of Umm Baru ... shortly after 10 a.m. this morning," the force said in a statement.
A UNAMID official, who asked not to be named, said it was thought the army was targeting JEM positions. No one was immediately available from JEM to comment.
Brigadier Uthman al-Agbash told Reuters no government bombing had taken place. "The Sudanese army did not have any military operations in this area" he said.
Aerial attacks are banned in Darfur by ceasefires and a U.N. Security Council resolution. Sudan’s army has said it has used aerial attacks in the past.
JEM commanders said they defeated a force of fighters loyal to former rebel leader Minni Arcua Minnawi close to Umm Baru over the weekend. In 2006, Minnawi became the only Darfur rebel to sign a peace deal with the government and then became a presidential assistant.
JEM has been consolidating its position as one of the largest rebel military forces in Darfur in recent months by recruiting commanders from other insurgent groups, while confronting Minnawi’s forces on a number of fronts.
JEM resumed discussions with Sudan’s government in Qatar last week, but the discussions have so far not evolved into full peace talks.
U.N. officials say up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.7 million have been driven from their homes in Sudan’s western Darfur region in six years of ethnically and politically driven violence. Khartoum says 10,000 have died. (Additional reporting by Khaled Abdelaziz and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Jon Hemming)