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EU Official Accuses Sudan Government of Arming Militias

The European Union special representative to Sudan says the EU is disturbed by recent developments in the embattled Darfur region. The envoy says Sudan is arming and supporting Arab militias, known as janjaweed, by integrating them into a government-backed defense force. Noel King has more in this VOA report from Khartoum.

EU Special Representative to Sudan Pekka Haavisto expressed deep concern on Thursday over escalating violence in Darfur that has hindered aid operations and jeopardized an already shaky peace agreement between the government of Sudan and former rebels.

Haavisto told reporters in Khartoum that the EU is concerned over recent clashes in the north Darfur capital of El Fasher between civilians and the janjaweed.

The clashes claimed at least 10 lives and forced the United Nations to evacuate 135 humanitarian workers from the city.

"Our overall view on developments in Darfur is not currently very optimistic," said Haavisto. "We have been looking this autumn with great concern at the very slow implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement. We have also been very concerned about recent incidents in places like El Fasher and Sirba, which have meant new casualties in Darfur."

According to Haavisto, Sudanese officials said they are integrating janjaweed militias into a border defense force in Darfur.

"Our meeting today with the government confirmed that the troops that were in El Fasher were border intelligence troops," he said. "I asked about the recent developments in El Fasher and mentioned that the janjaweed have been creating a lot of problems in El Fasher. The government responded, 'they are not janjaweed, we are not calling them janjaweed, because they are government border guards.' My response was, 'if you recognize them to be part of the government, you have more responsibility for their behavior.'"

Haavisto also cautioned the Sudanese government against sidelining Minni Minnawi, a leader of the only Darfur rebel group to sign onto the May 5 Darfur Peace Agreement.

Minnawi has threatened to pull out of the agreement following last week's attacks on El Fasher.

A spokesman for Minnawi told VOA on Thursday that the attacks in El Fasher were committed by janjaweed, and charged that Sudan is attempting to legitimize the militias by integrating them into defense units.

The United Nations Human Rights Council said Wednesday that it will send a high-level delegation to Sudan to investigate continued violence in the region.

Darfur has become increasingly chaotic in recent weeks. Attacks by janjaweed militias, Sudan's armed forces and rebel factions have destabilized areas in north and west Darfur.

Sudan has refused to allow the United Nations to send a peacekeeping mission to the region.

At present, Darfur is monitored by an underfunded African Union mission of about 7,000 troops.

The conflict, soon to enter its fourth year, has claimed tens of thousands of lives, and displaced more than two million people.