The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has pulled 62 staff out of the embattled town of Kassala in eastern Sudan, where government troops and rebels have been fighting for control, the UNHCR said Friday.
The evacuation began Wednesday after shells exploded next to the UNHCR offices in Kassala, a strategic town on a key highway between Khartoum and the Red Sea, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said here.
Humanitarian workers were also in danger from light arms fire in the capital of Sudan's eastern Kassala state, close to the Eritrean border, he said.
Expatriate and local UNHCR staff withdrew to Showak, a town further inside Sudan, Janowski added.
Two UNHCR workers were arrested by government soldiers wearing civilian clothes, but released on Wednesday and Thursday after the agency protested to the Khartoum government, he said.
Communications equipment belonging to the UNHCR was seized, he added.
The Sudanese general staff had given warning of a counter-offensive against rebels who had infiltrated the town of some 300,000 people, which lies on a road used for much of the country's import and export traffic.
The government and rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), who have linked up with the northern opposition in a National Democratic Alliance (NDA), fought fiercely for control of Kassala this week.
The Khartoum government on Thursday claimed to have repelled an NDA attack by elite SPLA troops, but the NDA told AFP by telephone from the Eritrean capital Asmara that it had taken seven army garrisons.
An unusually large number of UN personnel were in the region when the fighting started because they are carrying out the registration of an estimated 27,000 Eritrean refugees in the border area, Janowski said.
Kassala lies 25 kilometers (about 15 miles) from the border.
Khartoum and Asmara this year renewed diplomatic relations broken off in 1994 amid mutual accusations of support for rebel movements -- GENEVA (AFP)
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