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Sudan Rebels Accuse Government of Training, Arming Janjaweed - 2004-08-02

Sudanese rebels in the east of the country say pro-Khartoum Janjaweed militiamen, accused of committing atrocities in the Darfur region of western Sudan, are being trained and armed by the government to attack the civilian population in eastern Sudan. The accusation follows a Sudanese government claim that neighboring Eritrea is deeply involved in the crisis in Darfur.

Speaking to VOA from the Beja Congress headquarters in the Eritrean capital of Asmara, the spokesman for the eastern-based rebel group, Salah Barqueen, says his group has evidence of Khartoum's intent to use Janjaweed militias to attack civilian populations in eastern Sudan.

"They are constructing the Janjaweed militia to spread horror,? he said. "They already finished the training of most of these militias and also we found many of the camps scattered among the eastern area, near the Eritrean border. They are the same Janjaweed militia, like what is going on in Darfur."

Mr. Barqueen's claim has not been independently verified. But if true, it would add a troubling dimension to deteriorating relations between Sudan and the international community.

Last week, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution threatening sanctions against Sudan if it did not disarm pro-government Janjaweed militias in Darfur within the next 30 days. The government is accused of helping the Arab militias commit atrocities against black Africans there during the 16-month old rebellion.

Beja Congress was formed in the 1960s as the political wing of a rebel movement by non-Arab Beja tribes in eastern Sudan. The tribes, much like the non-Arab tribes in Darfur, have long complained of being neglected and marginalized by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.

The Sudanese government's spokesman at the African Union in Addis Ababa, Osman al-Said Fad al-Said, dismisses the Janjaweed allegations in eastern Sudan as part of an anti-Khartoum propaganda campaign being orchestrated by neighboring Eritrea.

He accuses the Beja Congress of being nothing more than a mouthpiece of the Eritrean government, which Sudan says is actively working to bring down his government.

"The so-called Beja Congress, which is based in Eritrea, doesn't have any existence in Sudan and whatever they say, the Eritrean president is putting in their mouths,? Mr. Said said. ?The policy of the Eritrean president, which we know very much, is that he is very keen to dismember Sudan."

Eritrea denies the charge, and, in turn, accuses Khartoum of spreading Islamic fundamentalism in the region and creating instability.

The Sudanese government said Saturday it had presented evidence to the United Nations and the African Union of Eritrea's alleged involvement in the Darfur crisis. Sudan says Eritrea has been training Darfur rebel fighters and is now pressuring their leadership not to engage in peace negotiations with Khartoum.

Evidence of Eritrea's involvement in Darfur has so far been indirect. In mid-July, members of Beja Congress held talks in Asmara with leaders of Darfur's rebel Justice and Equality Movement. The two groups signed an agreement there, pledging to coordinate their fight against Khartoum.