NAIROBI, Kenya -- Sudanese rebels said Monday they captured a Libyan fighter pilot who was forced down while flying for the Sudanese government and warned that thousands of Libyan troops were prepared to cross into western Sudan.
The report came amid plans for a high-ranking Sudanese delegation to go to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, later this week for peace talks with rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, whose 5-year-old insurrection has left hundreds of thousands of people in danger of starvation.
Sudanese Prime Minister Sadiq al Mahdi has accepted a tentative agreement that would lead to a cease-fire and a constitutional convention to discuss SPLA demands for increased autonomy in the south.
Sudan, which borders Egypt on the north and the Red Sea and Ethiopia on the east, has solicited Libya's backing against the SPLA. Ethiopia supports the SPLA.
The insurgency was largely instigated by Christian black Africans in southern Sudan in response to harsh Islamic law imposed by the Arabic-speaking northern political parties that control the government.
SPLA radio, monitored in Nairobi, said technical troubles Sunday forced a Libyan pilot to land his Soviet-made MiG-23 fighter in rebel-controlled territory. He was captured by civilians and turned over to the insurgents, it said.
The radio said the pilot, identified only as a second lieutenant from Bengazi, Libya, admitted flying a mission against the rebels in tandem with another Libyan MiG, which presumably returned to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. Fighters generally fly in pairs for protection.
The SPLA has been reporting foreign involvement in the war for two years, 'and now we have concrete evidence in the form of a real live Libyan pilot and a MiG-23 in good condition,' the rebel radio said.
The radio report said the SPLA learned from a high ranking officer at army headquarters in Khartoum that 6,500 Libyan troops were massing in southeastern Libya to reinforce Libyan troops in Sudan's western Darfur region. It did not say how many Libyans were in Sudan.
The sketchy report said the officer, who was not identified, had asked rebel radio to publicize the threat from Libya.
The Libyan defense minister, Col. Abu Bakr Younis, visited Khartoum last week hoping to finish negotiating a 'unity agreement' formalizing closer political cooperation between the two countries.
But he had to leave empty-handed when the pro-Egyptian Democratic Unionist Party, a junior partner in Sadiq's governing coalition, rejected the accord.
The SPLA rebels, who control most of southern Sudan east of the Nile River, have forced hundreds of thousands of people into garrison towns and mined their farms and supply lines in an attempt to starve the military into submission.
Relief flights by international agencies have prevented a tragedy in the southern capital, Juba, but the situation is critical in smaller cities that cannot safely be reached by air.