KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A prominent Sudanese pro-government militia leader wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court was wounded during clashes in the biggest city in the strife-torn Darfur region on Sunday, officials and witnesses said.
Western powers are worried about an upsurge in violence and instability in the vast western region at a time when Islamic militants roam porous sub-Saharan borders and fight French troops in Mali.
Residents said gunfire erupted in Nyala, capital of South Darfur state and Sudan's second-largest city. Armed men, some dressed in paramilitary police uniform, started firing at each other and looted the central market, they said.
Police said gunmen shot at Muhammad Ali Abdel-Rahman, an Arab militia leader known as Ali Kushayb, state radio said. He is being treated in a hospital, officials told the al-Shorouq TV channel, blaming the gunfire on an individual argument.
Abdel-Rahman's presence will enrage human rights groups who say Sudan has failed to disarm Arab militias it unleashed in 2003 to crush an uprising by African tribes against the Arab government which they accuse of marginalization.
Abdel-Rahman was charged with war crimes in Darfur by the ICC in 2007. Prosecutors said he commanded thousands of militia fighters and personally led attacks on towns and villages.
Under a 2011 peace deal signed between Sudan and two smaller rebel groups, Sudan would have been obliged to disarm militias.
Last month, Human Rights Watch said Abdel-Rahman, who is now a member of a paramilitary police unit, took part in a raid on a rival tribe in South Darfur in April.
Violence in Darfur has ebbed from 2004 peaks but fighting has picked up again between the army, rebels and rival tribes, displacing some 300,000 people since January.
Clashes had been so far confined to rural areas but a gunfight erupted in Nyala between rival security forces on Thursday, killing two Sudanese aid workers when a grenade hit an aid group office.
The ICC has also issued arrest warrants for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and other senior officials, accusing them of orchestrating war crimes. The Khartoum government has refused to deal with the ICC, dismissing it a Western plot.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Ralph Boulton)