By Ulf Laessing
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Fighting between two Arab tribes vying for control of a gold mine has killed around 50 people in Sudan's troubled Darfur region, a tribal leader and a U.N. source said on Thursday.
The clashes erupted on Wednesday, pitting the Bani Hussein against the Rizeigat, tribal groups which began fighting in January over the use of the gold mine near El Sireaf in North Darfur, Masar al-Duma Atim, a Bani Hussein leader, told Reuters.
"Between 40 and 50 people were killed in El Sireaf on Wednesday," he said. "They attacked us at 9 a.m."
A U.N. source said 54 members of the Bani Hussein had been killed and 24 wounded when Rizeigat tribesmen attacked them while they were grazing cattle in two villages outside El Sireaf.
A spokeswoman for the international peacekeeping force UNAMID said both tribes had suffered casualties, without giving figures. The Rizeigat and the army could not be reached for comment.
Years of international peace efforts have failed to end conflict in the westerly region of Darfur, where mainly African tribes took up arms in 2003 against Sudan's Arab-led government, which they accuse of discriminating against them.
Violence is down from its peak in 2004-05, but has picked up again this year as Arab tribes, many of which were armed by government early in the conflict, are now fighting among themselves over resources and land.
Around 300,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in Darfur this year due to fighting between the army, rebels and rival tribes, according to the United Nations.
The initial fighting over the gold mine in January killed 500 people and destroyed more than 68 villages, a pro-government Sudanese lawmaker said in February.
Gold has become Sudan's top export and earner of foreign currency. Half a million people dig for gold in mostly unlicensed mines and sell it to traders and the central bank.
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and some aides on charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur. They deny the charges and refuse to recognize the court.
Events in Darfur are hard to verify as Sudan restricts travel by journalists, aid workers and diplomats.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Kevin Liffey)