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Sudan's President Orders Crackdown on Armed Groups in Darfur - 2004-06-19


Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has ordered the disarmament of all fighters in the Darfur region, including those backed by the Sudanese government. Not everyone is convinced his order will be followed.

President Omar al-Bashir ordered Saturday the disarmament of all armed groups in the western region of Darfur. The order comes one day after the United States threatened to impose sanctions on Sudan if it does not put an end to the fighting in Darfur.

David Mozersky, an analyst with the independent research organization, the International Crisis Group, says the president's order to Sudanese security forces is a welcome development.

He praised the government for wanting to disarm the Janjaweed, an Arab militia widely believed to be backed by the government. But he says Khartoum may not have the means to do so.

The big challenge for the government, he says, will be to get the leading rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, to lay down their arms.

"As for disarming the rebel groups, I think it's basically a non-starter," he said. "They took up arms to fight against the government. The fact that the situation has deteriorated so dramatically on the humanitarian side does not mean that they are simply going to lay down their arms."

Mr. Mozersky says the government and rebel groups need to negotiate a political settlement before the rebels would be willing to disarm.

Fighting between the rebels and government broke out in Darfur more than a year ago. The rebels say they are struggling against economic and ethnic repression by the government, while the government attributes the fighting to hooligans and criminal elements. Both sides have repeatedly violated a cease-fire agreement reached last April.

More than 10,000 civilians are believed to have been killed and up to one million displaced by the conflict.

While disarmament is a desirable goal, Mr. Mozersky says, the government's key focus should be on feeding some 320,000 people that the U.S. International Development Agency says could die of starvation in the coming months.

"The top priority is, I think, trying to avert what is really a looming catastrophe," said David Mozersky.

The U.S. government says the fighting in Darfur has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world at this time.

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