February 20, 2007 / 1:22 PM / in 11 years

Janjaweed militias massing in Sudan: AU source

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Janjaweed militias have been concentrating forces to the north of el-Geneina, the capital of Sudan’s West Darfur state, an African Union military source said on Tuesday, corroborating a U.N. report.

Janjaweed is the local name for militia forces drawn mainly from the nomadic Arab tribes of the area and blamed for much of the killing in Darfur over the past four years.

The AU source, who asked not to be named, said: “They are massing (north of el-Geneina) ... They have vehicles with machineguns on top and they’re Janjaweed. We can’t say what their intentions are.”

The source declined to give numbers, but described the forces gathered as a “huge amount of personnel”, with pick-up trucks, camels and horses.

A U.N. mission spokeswoman said the militia numbered in the hundreds. The AU source said an African Union helicopter was keeping the force under surveillance.

A spokesman for the Sudanese military said the assembled tribesmen were preparing to migrate from the area, after having come under attack by non-Arab tribes.

“There was a clash between Arab and non-Arab tribes ... and because attacks by non-Arab tribes had increased ... they (the Arab tribe) gathered to leave the area, not to fight.”

A former rebel movement said a separate Janjaweed force had been attacking villages far to the east of the Darfur region for the past two days, killing six civilians.

That Janjaweed activity was north of ed-Da‘ein, a town about 450 km (300 miles) southeast of el-Geneina.

A spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), the only rebel faction to sign a May peace accord with the government, said the militia had pillaged food and burned houses in an attack which began on Monday and continued on Tuesday.

Six civilians were killed and two injured, he added.

The military spokesman blamed the violence on intertribal disputes between Zaghawa and Maalia ethnic groups, exacerbated by the involvement of militia from the SLM on the Zaghawa side.

“BLATANT VIOLATION”

“Nine months after (the signing of the peace agreement), Darfur has not lived with stability. We want to affirm that government officials who say the situation is stable in Darfur ... want to deceive the Sudanese people,” SLM spokesman Al-Tayyib Khamis said.

Khamis said the Janjaweed militia were using weapons given to them by the government and the attacks were a “blatant violation” of the peace agreement.

Rights group and Western governments say the Sudanese government has used the Janjaweed as auxiliaries against Darfur rebels and civilians suspected of rebel sympathies. The government denies this and says the Janjaweed are outlaws.

On Monday, a report by the U.N. Mission in Sudan said “armed militia had been mobilizing in large numbers over the past five days in the general area of Abou Souroug and Sliea (approximately 50 km north of el-Geneina). The reason behind the massive militia mobilization is so far not known.”

Tribal clashes in South Darfur killed up to 100 people last week, the United Nations said.

Darfur, an arid area the size of France, has been ravaged by violence since 2003, when rebels took up arms, accusing Khartoum of ignoring the region.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has resisted pressure to authorize a deployment of thousands of U.N. peacekeepers to support the 7,000-strong African Union mission, saying the AU force was strong enough and the United Nations could give money and logistical help to a hybrid force.

Bashir arrived in Libya on Tuesday for talks aimed at advance peace efforts in Darfur. The talks were due to begin late on Tuesday but were delayed until Wednesday morning because Chad’s President Idriss Deby had not arrived, an official said.

The discussions will also be attended by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki and U.N. and African Union envoys.

Gaddafi is expected to try to persuade the National Redemption Front Darfur rebel group to join the peace deal.

Experts estimate 2.5 million people have been driven from their homes in four years of conflict in Darfur.

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