KHARTOUM (Reuters) - New clashes between the Sudanese army and rebels erupted on Saturday in the country's main oil-producing state of South Kordofan, bordering South Sudan, witnesses and rebels said.
The violence is likely to worsen relations between the African neighbors, as Khartoum accuses Juba of supporting insurgents operating on Sudanese soil and using the South's territory as retreat bases. Juba denies this.
Residents in Dalang, one of the largest towns in South Kordofan, said they could hear shooting and explosions.
"There are clashes outside the city and now the army is stepping up security inside the city," said one resident, declining to be named.
Gibril Adam, spokesman for the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in the western region of Darfur, said his troops had attacked the army outside Dalang. "We handed them a defeat," he said.
Sudan's army spokesman al-Sawarmi Khalid could not be immediately reached on his mobile phone. No more details were available.
The fighting comes as the African Union (AU) tries to mediate in a row between Sudan and South Sudan over alleged rebel support.
Diplomats say hardliners among the rebels and inside the Sudanese army usually try to stir up clashes during such mediation efforts as they do not want a peaceful settlement.
The JEM is part of a rebel alliance which is trying to topple President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, accusing him of neglecting Sudan's borderlands.
On Friday, Sudan accepted a proposal by the AU to extend by two weeks an August 7 deadline to close two cross-border oil pipelines with South Sudan unless Juba cuts ties with rebels.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 under a peace deal ending decades of civil war, but both are at loggerheads over rebel support and disputed border territories.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by David Holmes)