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Militia Leader Blames Sudan's Government for Darfur Attacks on Civilians

A man accused of being a top Janjaweed militia leader in Darfur says the Sudan government backed and coordinated the militia's activities. Musa Hilal, whose name is on a U.S. State Department list of human rights abusers in Darfur, says on videotape that he mobilized people to join militias that were then trained and armed by the Sudanese government.

The high-ranking militia leader, who stands accused of leading the Janjaweed militia to attack civilians in Darfur, says the Sudanese government in Khartoum is responsible for the violence that has gripped the region for the past two years.

Musa Hilal spoke at length with Human Rights Watch in September 2004 during a taped interview at his home in Khartoum. He says the government organized the official militia, known as the PDF.

"It's the government's concern," he said. "They're the ones that gave the PDF the guns; they're the ones that recruited the PDF; they're the ones that pay their salaries; they give them their ID cards. They can disarm them or they can leave them alone; that's the government's concern."

The Sudanese government denies it has any links to the Janjaweed and blames the violence on criminals.

The militia leader does not explain what exactly Khartoum ordered the Janjaweed to do, but human rights groups and African Union monitors in Darfur have documented a campaign of terror against African farmers in the region, including killings, rapes and the destruction of villages. More than two million people have been displaced as a result of the fighting.

Dressed in white flowing robes and wearing a large gold watch, Mr. Hilal denied any personal involvement in the atrocities in Darfur. Instead, he describes himself as a tribal elder.

"I've never thought of becoming a soldier, or a military commander, and of leading troops and attacking the rebels' command areas in Tawila, or anywhere else," Mr. Hilal said. "That's not true. As a coordinator and mobilizer, as I said before, yes, it's true. I moblize people, I coordinate with recruiters. I've been with the PDF commanders, but I was never a commander of troops in a war zone, here or there."

But Jemera Rone, who follows events in Sudan for Human Rights Watch in Washington, says her group has uncovered evidence that directly links Musa Halal to some of the atrocities committed in Darfur.

She believes Mr. Halal is coming forward now with these revelations because he is troubled by talk of bringing those responsible for war crimes in Darfur before an international tribunal.

"Musa Hilal is right now very much afraid that he will be hauled before an international tribunal of justice. He is lining himself up to make sure that if he goes down, he's not the only one," she said.

The United Nations Security Council is considering whether to refer those accused of war crimes in Darfur to the International Criminal Court, which a U.N. Commission has recommended. Most European nations back this idea. The United States, which opposes the ICC on the grounds the court could be used to bring frivolous charges against U.S. troops or political leaders, supports the creation of an ad-hoc court in Africa.

Musa Hilal says if there is a trial, he wants it to be held in Sudan. The Khartoum government has said it would not want him or any other Sudanese accused of war crimes to be tried outside of Sudan.

According to Jemera Rone of Human Rights Watch, the government in Khartoum has failed to bring charges against any militia leader or military commander for the slaughter in Darfur. And she believes she knows why.

"They're not going to prosecute the militia that have been responsible for the atrocities because the Sudan government has been working together with the militia and in fact organized these people and armed them and trained them to do joint missions," she said.

The United States government has called the events in Darfur "genocide" and is pursuing a second United Nations Security Council resolution that includes an asset freeze against top Sudanese government officials and an arms embargo. However, the draft resolution does not address the issue of accountability and who will be responsible for prosecuting those responsible for war crimes in Darfur.