Sudan army seizes rebel stronghold in Blue Nile state

Sudanese soldiers in Damazin (September 2011)
Image caption Blue Nile is one of three border areas where fighting has erupted since South Sudan's independence

Sudanese forces have captured the key rebel stronghold of Kurmuk in the border state of Blue Nile, government and rebel sources said.

Sudan's defence ministry said the rebels left behind "a large number of dead and injured" after the battle for the town, near the Ethiopian border.

A spokesman for the SPLM-North rebels said they would fight on.

Since September Sudan has been battling rebels allied to South Sudan, which gained independence in July.

'Not the end'

"The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have succeeded in pushing the rebels out of Kurmuk. They left behind them a large number of dead and injured," the statement from the Sudanese ministry of defence said.

A spokesman for SPLM-North in the Blue Nile, Sulaiman Othman, said they had pulled out of the town for "strategic reasons".

"The Sudanese army controls Kurmuk but this is not the end of the war in Blue Nile," Mr Othman told Reuters news agency.

The BBC's James Copnall in Khartoum says this is a resounding success, not least in propaganda terms, for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

He had announced Kurmuk would fall before the Eid al-Adha religious festival due to take place this Sunday, our correspondent says.

People celebrated in the capital of Blue Nile state, Damazin, according to one eyewitness.

Blue Nile is one of three border areas - along with South Kordofan and Abyei - where fighting has broken out since South Sudan's independence.

Many rebels in the three regions fought alongside southerners during the decades-long civil war that ended with Khartoum agreeing to the south's independence.

Our correspondent says the SPLM-North rebels cannot match the Sudanese Armed Forces in a conventional battle, but have had some success with guerrilla warfare.

Khartoum accuses Juba of continuing to support the SPLM-North, but South Sudan denies the charge.