At least 100,000 people have been driven from their homes in an upsurge of fighting since January in Sudan's Darfur region, the UN's peacekeeping chief said Wednesday.
"Clashes and aerial bombings are currently continuing" in the rebel stronghold of Jebel Marra, Herve Ladsous, the under-secretary general for peacekeeping operations, told the Security Council.
About 103,000 people have sought refuge at four camps set up by the joint UN-African Union UNAMID mission in Darfur, he said.
Ladsous quoted humanitarian agencies as saying that at least 138,000 people had been on the run since mid-January.
Restrictions imposed by the Sudanese government to aid agencies and to the UNAMID mission made it difficult to be precise in assessing the number of displaced in the recent fighting, he said.
Jebel Marra sits at the heart of the Darfur region and is a stronghold of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army commanded by Abdulwahid Nur (SLA-AW).
Sudan's Ambassador Omar Dahab Fadl disputed the reports of large-scale movements of civilians, saying "large numbers" of displaced people had managed to return to their villages in Darfur and were growing their crops.
"Preparations are underway for the return of 100.000 IDPs (internally displaced persons) to their villages in the east and west of Darfur," the ambassador told the council.
Khartoum's envoy insisted that the Sudanese army was responding to attacks from the SLA-AW and had managed to restore security to the region, with roads now open to civilians.
"For the first time in 13 years, primary school students sat for general examinations. Levies ceased to be paid to hooligans," he said.
"Show me in which way this can clash with UN objectives."
The UN peacekeeping chief called on the government and the rebels to immediately halt fighting in Jebel Marra and begin peace talks to end the conflict.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft expressed concern over the continued violence in Jebel Marra and said humanitarian access to central Darfur had become "even harder" as a result.
"We ask all parties to provide the cooperation that UNAMID needs to do its job," he said.
Darfur descended into conflict in 2003 when ethnic minority insurgents rebelled, complaining the region was being economically and politically marginalized by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.
More than 300,000 people have been killed in the Darfur conflict since 2003 and there are some 2.6 million displaced, according to the United Nations.