Sudan's vice president has ordered the army to clear remnants of a rebel force it has been battling this month in a southeastern state, Sudanese media reported Sunday.
The clashes in Blue Nile state broke out Sept. 1 between the armed forces and rebels linked to the northern wing of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. The SPLM is the strongest political force in newly independent South Sudan.
"Any hand that seeks to separate this region from the rest of the Sudan shall be chopped off," said Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha during a surprise visit to the area on Saturday, according to several independent newspapers.
During his trip to the state capital, Damazin, the vice president visited the army headquarters, a market, hospitals and the office of the ruling party in an attempt to demonstrate life has returned to normal.
Thousands of people crossed into nearby Ethiopia to escape the fighting earlier this month, according to aid groups. The fighting also prompted President Omar al-Bashir to declare a state of emergency in the state.
Both sides blamed each other for setting off the battles, and the government has accused its rivals across the border in South Sudan of providing the rebels with military assistance.
In the latest accusations, Defense Minister Gen. Abdul-Rahim Hussein said planes loaded with trucks, ammunition and arms were spotted coming from South Sudan's capital to Kurmuk, a stronghold of the rebels in Blue Nile. His comments were reported by Al-Sudani newspaper.
Vice President Taha said the government was for peace but stressed that forces would not shy away from "defeating the enemy and clearing the state of remnants of the traitors."