By Opheera McDoom
KHARTOUM, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Darfur rebels said on Sunday they had inflicted a crushing defeat on Sudan’s army in West Darfur in an overnight battle during which they captured 29 soldiers, 32 vehicles and heavy weaponry.
The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) led by Khalil Ibrahim said had also simultaneously attacked for a second time Sudan’s Defra oil field, shutting down its pumping station.
"We captured a lieutenant-colonel called Mahdi Hamad Ahmed," JEM commander Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr told Reuters from the field. He added three other officers including lieutenant Abdel Moneim were also captured.
"We defeated two battalions and chased them to within 7 kilometres (4 miles) of el-Geneina," he said, referring to the capital of West Darfur state.
Sudan’s armed forces said they had no immediate confirmed information on the fighting to release to the media.
Ashr said JEM lost three soldiers and had 12 wounded in the fighting which began late on Friday and ended early on Saturday.
Darfur rebels from mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms in early 2003 accusing the central government of neglect. Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militias to quell the revolt but some Arab tribes, dissatisfied with the government, have begun to join the rebellion.
Ashr said at the same time fighters cut off the road between el-Geneina and the central Darfur town of Zalengei and attacked the Defra oil field in neighbouring Kordofan. These insurgents were all from Arab tribes.
Ibrahim told Reuters the attack on Defra, the second on the Chinese-run oil field in two months, was the latest in a spate of planned attacks which would continue until the Chinese left Sudan’s oil industry.
"The government uses the oil money to buy Chinese weapons in Darfur," said Ibrahim. He said JEM had attacked another field in the area two days previous called the Khadra field.
The fields are operated by the Chinese-led consortium Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), which involves India’s ONGC, China’s CNPC, Malaysia’s Petronas and Sudanese state-owned Sudapet in Sudan’s Blocks 1, 2 and 4 producing the light Nile Blend crude.
Many officials from Sudan’s opaque energy ministry declined to comment on the report. The ministry had denied previous attacks which were later proved true because the rebels had taken oil workers hostage.
Nile Blend makes up around 265,000 barrels per day of Sudan’s total output of more than 500,000 bpd. The area straddles Sudan’s north-south border.
International experts estimate 200,000 have died and 2.5 million driven from their homes during the conflict. Khartoum puts the death toll at 9,000. (Editing by Janet Lawrence)