A series of violent clashes in Sudan's western region of Darfur has forced thousands of people to flee their homes, the United Nations says.
Marta Ruedas, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, said on Wednesday that as many as 34,000 people have fled fierce clashes between the Sudanese government forces and rebels around the mountainous Jebel Marra area, which straddles South, Central and North Darfur states.
"Initial reports indicate that about 19,000 civilians have fled into North Darfur state, and up to 15,000 into Central Darfur state, following fighting in the mountainous Jebel Marra region," Ruedas said.
The UN official added that the vast majority of those fleeing the violence were women and children.
Ruedas also noted that "while it is encouraging that some humanitarian assistance is being provided, clearly much more is needed."
The violence-hit region is considered as a stronghold of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-AW), which has been battling the government in Khartoum since 2003.
The fresh clashes come after several months of relative calm in the restive region following Khartoum's announcement of a ceasefire late last year. The truce was extended for a month on New Year's Eve.
The two sides have accused each other of provocation and initiating the clashes.
Sudan's government forces have said that they are committed to the truce and have only responded to attacks by rebels. This is while the SLA-AW claim to have repelled several attacks by the government soldiers who tried to fight their way into Jebel Marra.
Meanwhile, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Sudanese government troops and pro-Khartoum militia of using "rape as a weapon of war" in previous battles in Darfur in 2014 and 2015.
"The pattern, scale, and frequency of rape suggests that Sudan's security forces have adopted this sickeningly cruel practice as a weapon of war," HRW's Africa Director Daniel Bekele said on Wednesday.
Khartoum is yet to comment on the recent accusations.
Darfur has been the scene of violence since 2003, when rebels took up arms against the government in Khartoum. There has also been tribal fighting in the region.
The United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was launched in 2007 in a bid to protect civilians and restore stability to the restive region.
The UN estimates that the violence in Darfur has so far killed some 300,000 people. Khartoum, however disputes the figure, estimating the death toll to be no more than 10,000.