Aid workers shelter from an overhead plane

KAUDA, Sudan | AFP - Many of its residents have fled the bombing to nearby caves, and the few who remain in Kauda, a rebel stronghold in Sudan's Nuba mountains, doubt an accord with the government will lead to peace.

Amar Amoun, an opposition MP in the embattled northern state of South Kordofan, welcomed the provisional agreement between the Khartoum government and the northern branch of the ex-rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

"But I am very much sceptical about the NCP's commitment to reaching a final peace agreement," he said, referring to the ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum.

As he spoke, the sound of a bomb dropped by a MiG jet exploding in the surrounding mountains shattered the tranquillity of this remote Nuba town.

"From past experience we had with the NCP, they always sign the peace agreements but don't respect them," said Amoun.

"We are part of this country and full citizens of the north, therefore we should be treated as so.

"(We need) a citizenship based on equal rights -- cultural rights, religious rights and ethnic rights. This should be enshrined in the national constitution," he added.

Heavy fighting in South Kordofan broke out at the beginning of June between government forces and Nuba militia loyal to former rebel army the SPLA, and Kauda is one of the key rebel positions that has been repeatedly bombed.

The town, some 115 kilometres (70 miles) east of the state capital, has all but emptied since the army's bombing campaign started, with many of its inhabitants fleeing to caves in the surrounding hills.

"The market is empty now because people are scared to come," said Abil Abrahim, one of just a few traders whose stall was still open.

Reliable casualty figures are hard to obtain because of heavy restrictions on the movement of UN agencies and non-governmental organisations.

But civilians have been killed in Kauda, and one local clinic run by a German NGO has received 47 injured from the air strikes.

"I'm not confident about (the peace agreement)," said Joseph Jacob, the only doctor at the clinic, which is nestled in the hills near the town.

"The international community needs to put more pressure on the NCP," he added.

The Nuba are indigenous African people whose heartland is in north Sudan, and many of them fought alongside the SPLA during their devastating 22-year civil war with the Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum.

As in other peripheral regions of Sudan, like Darfur, the lack of development and perceived ethnic discrimination in Kauda are an ongoing source of resentment, and many here believe the struggle of the Nuba should encourage the country's other minorities.

"This is not only for the Nuba people but all other marginalised peoples in Sudan," said Amoun.

"Our struggle will continue and we will raise our demands for self-determination, for our own government that will respect our religion and cultures," he added.

A former SPLA fighter, Cola, is staying in town to protect it should government troops arrive, a prospect few here think likely.

But like the others, he is also deeply sceptical that any agreement with Khartoum will stick.

"I don't think peace will ever happen again with these people."