PARIS (Reuters) - A veteran rebel leader from Sudan's Darfur region accused international peacekeepers on Friday of turning a blind eye to what he called a renewed campaign of ethnic cleansing by government-backed Arab militias.
International efforts have largely failed to end violence in the arid western territory, more than 10 years after Khartoum unleashed militias to try and crush a rebellion by mostly non-Arab insurgents.
Frustrated with the lack of progress, the U.N. Security Council last week demanded improvements in the joint U.N./African Union peacekeeping force there, and urged Khartoum to improve cooperation with the mission.
"UNAMID (the peacekeeping force) is there to protect civilians and monitor peace, but it is not doing its job. It is covering up the crimes of the Sudanese government and legalizing genocide," Minni Minnawi told Reuters during a visit to Paris.
"There is a military escalation in Darfur. Each day Janjaweed armed militias are targeting civilians and burning villages. They are not fighting rebel movements, but attacking civilians," said Minnawi, the leader of a faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement that has also carried out large-scale attacks.
Janjaweed is a name used for militias drawn mainly from the areas' s nomadic Arab tribes of the area, that rebels and campaigners blame for much of the killing since 2003.
No one was immediately available to comment from UNAMID or Sudan's government.
Washington and rights campaigners have called Khartoum's crackdown in the region "genocide" - a charge dismissed by Khartoum. Analysts have also accused rebels of carrying out atrocities.
U.N. and African Union officials last month said violence had worsened again in Darfur, displacing hundreds of thousands of people this year.
"The situation is getting worse. From the Blue Nile to South Kordofan and Darfur, the humanitarian situation is terrible and the government is creating this situation," Minnawi said, referring to two southern regions where the government is also battling insurgents.
Minnawi was the only major rebel leader to sign a failed 2006 peace deal with Khartoum. He was a presidential assistant after the accord, but later returned to the battlefield.
"My experience was bitter. That's why I'm fighting now," he said. "The Sudanese government will sign any deal even swearing on the Koran or Bible, but will never implement it."
He said Sudan's president Omar Hassan al-Bashir was stepping up his campaign in Darfur while world powers were distracted by conflicts in Central African Republic and South Sudan.
"The problem will worsen. There will be chaos in the whole region and it will cost the international community a high price," he said.
Darfur insurgents took up arms accusing the government of neglecting the area and discriminating against its ethnic groups. But the conflict has since descended into a free-for-all involving bandits, rival tribes and rebel splinter groups.
Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Andrew Heavens