Paris — Malian rebels who seized control of their country's northern region last year may have crossed into Sudan, a well-placed diplomatic source told Sudan Tribune.
Chad President Idriss Deby sits during the opening session of the regional bloc ECOWAS summit on expediting an African force to come to Mali's aid, on January 19, 2013 in Abidjan (Getty Images)
The source said that Chadian president Idriss Deby informed Paris that rebels fleeing large-scale attacks on their positions by French and Malian forces had entered Sudan's western Darfur region.
The comments come as Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti on Tuesday made a previously unannounced visit to Paris where he met with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius.
Sudan's official news agency (SUNA) quoted foreign ministry spokesperson Al-Obeid Marwih as saying that the two officials discussed the situation in Mali among other topics.
This month the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) along with other rebel groups fighting a decade-long war against Khartoum in Darfur, claimed to have detected and documented the infiltration of Islamist rebels from Mali.
JEM spokesperson Jibril Adam Bilal accused the Sudanese government of deliberately misleading the public over the presence of Malian rebels.
Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti (R) shaking hand with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius in Paris Tuesday February 26, 2013 (French Foreign Ministry)
He alleged that Khartoum has deliberately allowed the rebels to enter Sudan, where they were integrated into government militia known as Abu-Taira.
The rebel Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdel Wahid Al-Nur (SLM-AW) also claimed that Islamist fighters from the Ansar Al-Dine group crossed into North Darfur from Mali through Niger and Libya late last month.
The spokesperson for the rebel movement, Nimir Abdel-Rahman, said they believe that the Tuaregs entered Darfur with the support of Libyan Islamist groups and not the Libyan government, as was previously claimed by other groups.
Meanwhile, an independent human rights commissioner, Masood Badri al-Deen, claimed in a press conference in Khartoum that the joint African Union-United Nation Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) had also confirmed a Malian rebel presence in Darfur.
Earlier this month, JEM released pictures displaying two vehicles allegedly transporting militiamen and Malian Tuaregs.
Al-Qaeda-linked rebel groups seized control of Mali's northern region last year, a vast area of desert and rugged mountains the size of Texas.
Paris has carried out dozens of airstrikes and deployed thousands of troops in the troubled region since January in a bid to halt the rebels' advance, amid fears the region could become a staging point for terrorist attacks in Africa and Europe.
The Sudanese army (SAF) has denied the presence of Malian jihadist groups in Darfur.
In statement released by a pro-government website on 20 February, SAF spokesperson Al-Sawarmi Khaled said the security services are closely monitoring the borders, describing the rebel statements as "unfounded".
The French government has not responded publicly to the claims and French sources have denied that Paris has any concrete evidence about the arrival of armed militants from Mali to Darfur.
Speaker of JEM's Legislative Assembly, Tahir El-Faki , who recently led a JEM delegation for talks with French officials, said they had warned France about the presence of jihadists in western Sudan, adding that Khartoum may seek to hand over some of the rebels in the future to Western countries for a "reward".
Faki underscored that the Islamists who arrived in North Darfur are from different countries including Mali, Niger and Chad and other foreigners, adding that some of them had already been present in Darfur before moving to Mali last year.