Wildlife conservationists say Sudanese Arab militiamen with ethnic ties to the Janjaweed in Darfur are killing elephants and white rhinos in Congo. There is increasing fear that the militiamen are poaching animals to fund an on-going civil war in the Upper Nile region of southern Sudan.
The Nairobi-based spokeswoman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Elizabeth Wamba, says a recent survey of Garamba National Park in eastern Congo shows that 25 elephants and more than a dozen rare northern white rhinos have been slaughtered there in the past year.
She says the poaching has reduced the world's northern white rhino population in the wild to fewer than 30.
"Garamba is located in the northeast corner of the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo], so it borders Sudan," she said. "And there have been reports that some Sudan elements have been getting into Garamba for poaching, mainly by foot but, of late, we have also had incidents where some elements have been getting in on horseback."
Park officials in Garamba say that they are certain the poachers are Arab Murahaleen militiamen, who come from the same ethnic group as the pro-Khartoum Arab Janjaweed militiamen in the western Darfur region of Sudan. Witnesses say the militiamen are using donkeys to carry ivory and rhino horn back into Sudan.
At the start of a separate, 21-year civil war in southern Sudan, the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum is believed to have recruited and armed Arab Murahaleen nomads from Darfur and neighboring Kordofan. As in Darfur today, the government is accused of ordering the Murahaleen to rape and kill civilians and burn down villages in areas controlled by the southern rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the SPLM.
Human rights groups say two year-long famines that killed hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese in the late 1980s and again in the late 1990s were the result of these attacks.
Since Khartoum and the SPLM signed a cease-fire accord two years ago, progress has been made toward a power-sharing deal that would end the war.
But as Richard Cornwell at the South Africa-based Institute of Security Studies explains, as many as 30 pro-rebel and pro-government groups, including the Murahaleen, have been excluded from the formal peace process and are now fighting for territory and livestock in the Upper Nile region of southern Sudan called Shilluk Kingdom.
The United Nations says some 70,000 people in Shilluk have been displaced in recent clashes and the figure is growing.
Mr. Cornwell says he believes Khartoum is using the Murahaleen and other groups to perpetuate instability in the south and make the area ungovernable for the incoming rebel SPLM administration. Under a previously negotiated deal, the south is to have autonomy from Khartoum for six years before holding a referendum on secession.
"There are government militias who are still operating and who are not part of the southern peace agreement," said Mr. Cornwell. "And this is an attempt to try to manipulate the interim process. And the militias, because they are deniable, are going to play some considerable role in this on the part of the Khartoum government."
Experts believe the Murahaleen and other pro-government militias have been looking for ways to buy more arms and supplies to supplement what they have. They say selling ivory and horn from poached animals may now be one of the ways they are raising money to fund their activities.