The State Department said yesterday that Sudan had been "most unwise" in accepting military help from Libya to combat rebels in southern Sudan, and it urged the Sudanese government to reconsider its involvement with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

In response to a request this month from Sudanese Prime Minister Gizzuli Daffa-Allah, Libya has provided arms and planes to bomb strongholds of the rebels, who are trying -- with help from neighboring Ethiopia's Marxist government -- to break Khartoum's rule over the southern Sudan.

Reports of the deepening Libyan involvement in Sudan, a country regarded as important to U.S. interests in the Middle East and Africa, follow this week's clash between a U.S. naval task force and Libyan forces in the Gulf of Sidra.

The United States, which has denounced Qaddafi as a major supporter of international terrorism, has shown increasing concern over the Sudanese government's pursuit of closer ties with Tripoli. Daffa-Allah made his request for help against the rebels while in Tripoli to negotiate a military aid agreement.

"We believe Sudan was most unwise to have permitted the Libyans to become involved militarily," department spokesman Charles Redman said. "The presence of the Libyans and their bombing raids in the south will generate more southern support for the rebels."

Redman said Libyans were "for several years major arms suppliers to the southern dissidents" and added: "The bombing raids they are now conducting on their former associates should have a message for those who rely on the Libyans for support."

Over the past year, the United States has given Sudan about $50 million in emergency aid to relieve famine conditions but has held up another $100 million because of Khartoum's failure to meet financial austerity requirements.

Redman, referring to a new government due to take power after April elections, said the United States hopes it "will weigh carefully the implications of its predecessor's request for Libyan assistance."