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Fighting spreads to city in Sudan's Darfur region

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A gunfight broke out on Thursday in Sudan's second-largest city, in the strife-torn Darfur region, witnesses said, prompting residents to take cover and the United Nations to cancel a routine flight there.

Residents said heavy gunfire could be heard near the security headquarters in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state. The identities of the gunmen were unknown.

Clashes between the army, rebels and rival tribes have surged in Darfur in recent months, but had until now been confined to rural areas.

One resident said men dressed in military uniform were exchanging fire with people inside the security compound but no more details were immediately available.

Sudanese officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

"People are panicking and shops are closed," another resident told Reuters by phone as gunfire resounded in the background.

The United Nations canceled a regular flight from Khartoum to Nyala for security reasons and U.N. staff in the city were moved to a bunker, a U.N. source said.

Years of international peace efforts have failed to end conflict in Darfur, where mainly African tribes took up arms in 2003 against Sudan's Arab-led government, which they accuse of discriminating against them.

Violence is down from its peak in 2004-05, but has picked up again this year, involving the army, rebels and Arab tribes, many of which were armed by the government early in the conflict and are now fighting among themselves over resources and land.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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