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UN: Violence in Darfur Increasing

A senior U.N. official has warned that attacks by Sudanese Arab militias against civilians in Darfur are on the rise. The African Union is struggling to find additional peacekeeping forces for Darfur.

Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi told the Security Council pro-government Arab fighters have stepped up the pace of attacks in Sudan's Darfur region.

"Organized violence in the region continued throughout the last month," he announced. "Attacks on civilians, rape, kidnapping and banditry actually increased from the previous month. While there was no evidence of direct involvement of regular government forces last month, there were widespread reports of abuse by militia."

Mr. Annabi said African Union and U.N. representatives had identified the commander of a militia unit that attacked one South Darfur town last month, forcing 10,000 civilians to flee their homes. The commander's name will be handed to a panel preparing for trials of Darfur war crimes suspects.

The secretary-general's monthly report to the Security Council on Darfur also notes an increase in harassment of international aid workers. Assistant Secretary-General Annabi called it a worrying trend given the role aid workers play in keeping alive the nearly two and a half million Darfurians affected by the conflict there.

The United Nations estimates 180,000 people have died in Darfur since war broke out two years ago. An African Union force of fewer than 3,000 peacekeepers was dispatched to stem the violence, but has found itself stretched too thin in a region the size of France.

The A.U. has agreed to increase the size of the force to more than seven-thousand, but officials admit finding the troops to fill even the original mandate has been a challenge.

Algeria's Security Council Ambassador Abdallah Baali told reporters Thursday recruiting additional troops would be a stiff challenge.

"Some African countries would have to volunteer to send more troops," he added. "I have no idea, I think it would be up to the African Union to make sure these people are deployed. Already it has been very difficult to deploy the 3,000 people."

Canada announced Thursday it would nearly triple its aid to Sudan to nearly $200 million over two years. As many as 100 Canadian peacekeepers are also being dispatched to support the African Union mission.

The United States has pledged $1.7 billion to help in Sudan's recovery. Most of it, however, is for rebuilding the south of the country, where a peace agreement signed in January ended a separate conflict that lasted more than two decades.

The fighting in Darfur broke out broke out two years ago when rebels challenged Khartoum's rule, complaining about what they saw as years of neglect and discrimination.

Khartoum denies backing the Arab militias, known as janjaweed, and blames the rebels for the conflict.