N’DJAMENA (Reuters) - Arab-led Darfur rebels accuse Sudan’s government of fomenting ethnic tensions in the war-torn region as a “divide and rule” tactic and insist the portrayal of Arabs as linked to the feared Janjaweed militia is wrong.
The United Revolutionary Force Front (URFF), a little-known Arab-led group opposed to the Khartoum government, says government troops have increased attacks on its positions in Darfur in recent weeks, including a raid on August 11 in which the group says it captured 12 government soldiers.
“The government of Sudan is trying to separate the Arabs and the Africans, to put them on two sides against each other,” URFF Secretary-General Mohammad Ibrahim Mohammad Brima told Reuters in neighboring Chad.
Darfur’s war pits local rebel groups drawn largely from African farming tribes against government forces and allied militia known as the Janjaweed, whose mainly Arab members are accused of bloody attacks on villagers that have forced many of Darfur’s 2.5 million displaced from their homes.
International experts say 200,000 have been killed in Darfur since 2003, although Khartoum says only 9,000 have died.
“Yes Khartoum has created militias -- but other ethnic groups are involved as well as Arabs ... Arabs are part of Darfur as well, and we are suffering just as the others,” Mohammad Brima said.
“We are not beside the militia -- we are against anybody that attacks the people of Darfur ... we are against these people, even if they are Arabs,” he said. “The people of Darfur are one nation and they should not be separated.”
“READY TO DEFEND OURSELVES”
The URFF says government forces have attacked its positions in Darfur three times in the past few weeks, most recently on August 11 in the village of Souja, near Wadi-Saleh in west Darfur, where the rebel group captured army soldiers for the first time -- although Khartoum has denied its soldiers were captured.
“The government of Sudan believes it can only win by war, so we must be ready to defend ourselves,” Mohammad Brima said.
A relatively unknown member of the growing ranks of Darfur rebel groups, the URFF is part of the Arab rebel Democratic Popular Front Army (DPFA), which has already claimed the capture of the government troops, the DPFA’s chief said.
“They (the URFF) are our people. They have a different name because there are small differences within the group which we hope will be resolved in a general conference we will hold soon,” DPFA Secretary-General Osama Mohamed al-Hassan told Reuters.
Mohammad Brima said the upsurge in attacks on the URFF was evidence Khartoum was beginning to feel their group is a threat. But he declined to detail its fighting forces or capabilities.
Founded in 2004, it says it was not invited to peace talks because it had not been engaged in active combat -- until now.
But its leaders claim support from key rebel groups such as the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and say its top commanders include people from non-Arab clans including the Zaghawa people -- who span the Sudan-Chad border and dominate Chadian politics.
As violence has spiraled in Darfur, ethnic violence has surged and spread across the border into eastern Chad.
More than 100 people were killed in a week of clashes in late July and early August between Arab tribes over land and scarce resources, mainly in South Darfur state.
“It is not correct to say that Arabs are Janjaweed, and that Janjaweed are Arab,” said Mohammad Brima. “This is completely wrong. Arabs are part of Darfur, and are merged and inter-married with the people of Darfur.”