KHARTOUM, Oct 25 (Reuters) Darfur rebels today vowed to launch more assaults on oil installations across Sudan until Khartoum gave in to a string of demands.
''This is only the beginning,'' said Ahmed Tugud, the chief negotiator of the Justice and Equality Movement. ''We will carry out attacks across Sudan and our main target will be oil fields.'' JEM said it attacked Sudan's Defra oil field .'' killing 20 government soldiers and taking two foreign hostages, one Canadian, the other Iraqi. The government denied any such attack.
Tugud told Reuters no harm would come to the hostages, saying they were in ''secure hands''. But he said the insurgent group was not ready to announce what it planned to do with them.
A spokesman for Sudan's Ministry of Energy and Mining today denied there had been an attack on Defra, saying: ''There is no problem there. Everything is secure.'' Sudan is highly sensitive about reports that risk damaging its hugely opaque oil industry, a vital source of revenue for the country.
Tugud said attacks on oil fields would continue until Khartoum agreed to a string of JEM demands, including compensation for the people of Darfur, a Darfuri regional government and full representation in Sudan's national government.
MESSAGE TO CHINA The Defra oil field in Sudan's Kordofan region, neighbouring Darfur, is run by The Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) consortium. China's CNPC has the biggest stake in the group, alongside India's ONGC, Malaysia's Petronas and Sudanese state-owned Sudapet.
Tugud said the Defra attack was meant as a message to China, which JEM accuses of arming the Khartoum government.
''All the weapons we took from the soldiers were Chinese. The Sudan government is using the oil money it gets from China to buy weapons to kill our people,'' Tugud said.
JEM earlier gave foreign oil companies a week to leave Sudan.
A spokesman from China's embassy in Khartoum said he could confirm an attack happened in the region and that some people were ''abducted by JEM''. He added: ''We are studying the situation. I can't comment further.'' China's interest in African oil has exposed its companies to increasing risk in recent months. Separatist rebels in Ethiopia's remote Somali region killed nine Chinese workers in a raid on an oil installation in April. Chinese oil workers have also been kidnapped in volatile southern Nigeria.
Sudan's Ministry of Energy and Mining lists 24 companies with stakes in oil concessions in the country, including Total of France.
The reported attack cast a further shadow over peace talks between Darfur rebel groups and the Sudanese government, due to start in the Libyan city of Sirte on Saturday.
JEM leaders said they were meeting their counterparts in the Unity faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-Unity) on Thursday to decide whether to attend the negotiations brokered by the U.N. and the African Union.
The talks have already been hit by boycotts. Six other SLA factions announced they were pulling out this week. The founder of the splintered movement Abdel Wahed Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur also says he will not go.
Insurgent groups say they have not been given enough time to prepare negotiating positions or reach common ground with other factions. Many were also angered by the invitations to the talks which, they said, limited the number of representatives from each group and did not include foreign delegates.
REUTERS SYU VC1620