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Amid Sudan Crisis, Khartoum Takes Delivery of Russian  Fighter Jets - 2004-07-22

Sudan is reported to have taken delivery of the last of 12 MiG fighter jets purchased from Russia in a deal signed three years ago. Although the Sudanese government says the jets are needed to defend against external threats, delivery of the planes comes as the Khartoum government faces increasing criticism for its involvement in the conflict in the western Darfur region and hints that the international community may step in if conditions do not improve.

The Sudanese government denies these fighter jets will be used against its own people. But given the widespread charges of government complicity in the deaths of an estimated 30,000 civilians in Darfur, Russia's delivery of these last two MiGs is coming under new scrutiny.

Despite Khartoum's denials of any role in the deaths, groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say they have evidence that shows the government is arming pro-government Arab militias and using MiG aircraft to attack black Africans in Darfur.

"When I was in Chad in February, I collected a number of testimonies from refugees from Darfur who specifically identified MiGs as having been involved in the bombings of villages and so on," said Leslie Lefkow, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who has interviewed people caught up in the conflict. "They drew pictures of what the planes looked like."

The Sudanese government's failure to stop attacks on civilians along the Chadian border has been described by aid groups as ethnic cleansing, and by the United Nations as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. While a U.S. Defense official Thursday echoed comments by the British government that it is way too early to consider military intervention, the delivery of Russian fighter aircraft comes just as the United Nations is considering sanctions against Sudan in an effort to bring the 17 month conflict in Darfur to an end.