Sudan broke pledge, report says

Rights group's report accuses government of failing to disarm militias

August 28, 2004|By Robyn Dixon | Robyn Dixon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NYALA, Sudan - U.S.-based Human Rights Watch reported yesterday 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 argued that such measures would be the only way to show Sudan that the international community is serious about Darfur. The Security Council, including some Western nations, is thought to have little appetite for sanctions, fearing that such measures would drive Sudan further into isolation and violence.

A recent Amnesty International study accused the Sudanese 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 mainly Arab 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 northern, western and southern Darfur, which will form 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 janjaweed, a loose term for the militias meaning "demons on horseback with guns" that has been used by victims in Darfur 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 said, calling for the United Nations and African Union cease-fire monitors to investigate the bases and disband them.

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

About 500 members of the Popular Defense Force laid down their weapons yesterday in Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state. But Human Rights Watch said there had been no disarmament of janjaweed fighters.

The Human Rights Watch report lists 16 bases, along with the names of janjaweed commanders, and estimates of the numbers of fighters at each. Six other bases are listed without details.

Five are sites shared by the government army and janjaweed, the report says. Some held only by janjaweed were set up as recently as last month, many of them occupying villages where residents have been driven out. Others are close to camps where homeless victims of the violence have sought refuge.

Trucks loaded with food and other relief supplies began a two-week trek from Khartoum to the Darfur region yesterday, the beginning of a mammoth Red Cross effort to help hundreds of thousands of people.

U.N. officials consider the plight of the arid region's 1.4 million displaced people the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and the international Red Cross is staging its biggest relief operation anywhere, spokeswoman Julia Bassam said in Khartoum.

She said eight-truck convoys will leave Red Cross warehouses in Khartoum every two days. A huge cargo plane is making six trips from Switzerland, ferrying nearly 800 tons of trucks and other equipment needed for the relief operation.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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