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Group Calls for Sudan Sanctions

Human Rights Watch says the government has broken its pledge to disarm Arab militias.

August 28, 2004|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

NYALA, Sudan — U.S.-based Human Rights Watch reported Friday that the Sudanese government had broken its pledge to disarm marauding Arab militias in the Darfur region, allowing them to occupy at least 20 bases, including villages seized from civilians who fled their attacks.

In the final days before a United Nations Security Council decision on whether Sudan has made adequate progress toward bringing security to Darfur, the rights group, seeking to increase pressure for tough action against the government, called for the imposition of U.N. sanctions.

The activists said penalties would be the only way to show Sudan that the international community was serious about Darfur. But there is reportedly little appetite for sanctions among Security Council members, including Western nations, for fear that the measures would only drive Sudan further into isolation and violence.

The Human Rights Watch report followed an Amnesty International study in recent days that accused the government of arresting and detaining those who spoke out about the crisis in Darfur. An estimated 30,000 people have been killed in the region as troops and militias allied with the Arab-led national government have sought to put down a rebellion among rural blacks that began last year.

Three U.N. teams are conducting a final assessment of Sudan's progress on security in Darfur's north, west and south, which will be the basis of a report to the Security Council by the U.N. special representative on the issue, Jan Pronk.

If the U.N. report finds that the government in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, has made insufficient progress toward protecting civilians in Darfur, the Security Council will decide what further action is necessary to pressure the government.

Human Rights Watch relied on witnesses and rebels for information about the whereabouts of bases of the so-called janjaweed, a loose term meaning "demons on horseback with guns" that has been used by victims to describe their attackers.

"Throughout the time Khartoum was supposedly reining in the janjaweed, these camps have been operating in plain sight," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

"The existence of these janjaweed camps shows clearly that Khartoum is not at all serious about ending atrocities and providing security," he added, calling for the U.N. and African Union cease-fire monitors to investigate the bases and disband them.

Human rights groups and Western diplomats believe that Sudan unleashed the Arab tribal militias as a proxy force to suppress the rebellion, though the government denies this. The regime also recruited an official uniformed force known as the Popular Defense Force to fight the rebels.

Confusion as to which militia was responsible for widespread killings, rapes, looting and burning of villages has complicated the process of disarmament. The government has promised to provide the U.N. with a list of the militias that are under its control but has not yet done so.

On Friday, 500 members of the Popular Defense Force laid down weapons in Geneina, in western Darfur. However, Human Rights Watch complained that there had been no disarmament of janjaweed fighters.

The Human Rights Watch report lists 16 bases with the names of janjaweed commanders and estimates of the numbers of fighters present. Six more are listed without details.

Five are joint Sudanese army and janjaweed sites, the report says. Some bases held only by janjaweed were set up as recently as July, many of them occupying villages whose residents had been driven out. Others are close to camps where victims of the violence have sought refuge.

Although the number of fighters in several camps was not known, the report lists locations of about 2,000 janjaweed members. It says the information about the militias' locations can be verified using satellite imagery, and calls on governments with such technology, such as the United States, to do so. Sequential satellite pictures could also show the movement of looted stock and other goods in and out of camps, it says.

The report names a base in Ustani, western Darfur, as the first janjaweed base, saying it was established in June 2003 under commander Ahmed Jeladi and has a helicopter landing pad. It says the janjaweed kept large numbers of stolen livestock in a camp at Jebel Kaya, also in western Darfur, and sometimes ferried them by helicopter to other camps.

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