KHARTOUM - Rebels in Sudan's Darfur region said Monday they have detained 49 international peacekeepers and three suspected Sudanese intelligence agents for "investigation." The Justice and Equality Mov ment (JEM) captured the mostly Senegalese members of the UN-AU peacekeeping mission UNAMID on Sunday, said rebels' spokesman. Meanwhile, the UN denies the report saying the fifty-five peacekeepers from the joint African UNAMID in Sudan's Darfur region are not hostages, the mission said after rebels reported their capture.
"They came to an area controlled by JEM without permission and without informing JEM," Bilal said, without specifying the location in the vast Darfur region of western Sudan.
He said the rebels were holding them to probe why they entered rebel territory, "and to investigate the three Sudanese because we think they are members of Sudan's intelligence and security service".
A UNAMID spokeswoman said "there is a situation ongoing" but could not immediately give details.
The peacekeepers and their equipment were safe, said Bilal. Forty-six of them were from Senegal, including two officers, while there was one each from Yemen, Ghana and Rwanda.
Senegalese troops operate primarily in Darfur's northwest near the Chad border.
JEM, a key rebel group from Darfur, announced in January that it had chosen Gibril Ibrahim, a one-time university professor, to head the movement after his brother Khalil, its former leader, was killed.
The new chief denied JEM had fractured and said the group would follow the course set by his brother to seek "democratic" change.
The JEM and other rebel groups drawn from Darfur's non-Arab tribes rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003. In response, the government unleashed state-backed Janjaweed militia in a conflict that shocked the world and led to allegations of genocide.
Since then, much of the violence in the region has degenerated into banditry.
Early this month JEM released five Turks who, the group said, had been hired to dig wells for the Sudanese military. They were held for several months.
The United Nations estimates that at least 300,000 people have died as a result of the Darfur conflict, with about 300 killed in clashes last year. Almost two million people remain displaced.
The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10,000.
Last year the government signed a peace deal in Doha with an alliance of Darfur rebel splinter factions. JEM and other key rebel groups refused to sign the pact, saying it failed to address the Darfur problem at its roots.
President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court for alleged genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.