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Videotape of Janjaweed Leader Says Orders Came from Sudanese Officials

Human Rights Watch has released a videotape of an interview in which a top Arab militia leader, suspected of committing gross human rights violations in the western Darfur region of Sudan, says he and his men only carried out orders handed down by the Sudanese government.

In a three-hour interview with Human Rights Watch researchers in Khartoum, Arab militia leader Musa Hilal says that the Sudanese government has directed all activities conducted against rebels and civilians in the two-year conflict in Darfur.

Mr. Hilal says his militia, known as the Janjaweed, received instructions from top army commanders in the field who in turn received their orders from Khartoum.

Although the militia leader does not spell out what those orders were, the Janjaweed has been widely accused of carrying out a campaign of terror, killing and raping tens of thousands of civilians throughout Darfur.

Mr. Hilal's testimony significantly bolsters long-held claims by Darfur rebels and human rights groups that the Sudanese government recruited the Janjaweed to be used as a proxy force to crush the rebellion in the remote western region.

The government denies having any links to the Janjaweed, calling the militia a group of bandits and outlaws.

Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Leslie Lefkow tells VOA that Mr. Hilal's interview exposes the wide rift that has formed between the Janjaweed and the government in Khartoum.

"They are pointing at each other and trying to deflect their own responsibility and in fact, both parties need to be held responsible," she said. "The government has consistently denied that it has used militias despite unbelievable amount of evidence and Musa Hilal clearly played a leading role in Darfur and he is trying to save his skin. For the first time, I think Musa Hilal and other militia leaders and government leaders are worried that the ICC [International Criminal Court in the Netherlands] is looming."

In a January report, a U.N.-appointed panel identified 51 people suspected of committing heinous crimes in Darfur and recommended that the suspects be referred to the ICC. U.N. sources say Musa Hilal is on the list, as well as some government officials in Khartoum.

Mr. Hilal has said that he would not agree to what he called the "humiliation" of being prosecuted abroad. On Tuesday, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail reiterated Khartoum's rejection of the recommendation, saying that putting Sudanese on trial outside the country would be "out of the question and impossible."

Sudan insists that its own courts are capable of trying suspects accused of committing human rights violations in Darfur. But Ms. Lefkow with Human Rights Watch vehemently disagrees.

"The idea of holding trials in Sudan is simply ludicrous," she said. "There is no independence of the judiciary and when you are talking about the level of government involvement in Darfur and the level of government officials who might be indicted by a tribunal, there is no way you are going to see fair trials or real trials in Sudan. It has to be done internationally."

The U.N. Security Council is split on where to try war crime cases from Darfur. Three of the 15 Security Council members, including the United States, oppose sending suspects to the ICC.

Unlike the United Nations, Washington has labeled the violence in Darfur as genocide. But it favors setting up a new court for Sudan to be convened in Arusha, Tanzania, using the international criminal tribunal set up to try suspects in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.