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Sudan Reportedly Hiding Arab Fighters in the South - 2004-09-28

Under international pressure to disarm and disband Arab militias, Sudan's government is instead reportedly moving hundreds, possibly thousands, of the fighters from Darfur to remote areas of southern Sudan. Some observers say the government is trying to hide the militiamen.

Sudan's government is hiding the militias it supposedly is trying to disarm. That's according to numerous sources from the remote Shilluk Kingdom and Nuba Mountain regions of southern Sudan.

Aid workers and officials from the southern rebel group, the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, or SPLA, say they have seen as many as 600 Arab fighters being transported by government trucks near the town of Malakal, south of the Nuba Mountains.

SPLA commander Lam Akol said at least 200 Janjaweed fighters were transported from Malakal south along the White Nile to the town of New Fanjak - which is now called Fam - and then eventually to Nasir town, near the Ethiopian border. That was about two weeks ago. "I was in the area, I just came on Friday, and eyewitness reports from within Malakal itself have confirmed that janjaweed were brought into Malakal town and taken to New Fanjak and Nasir," he said. "And, of course, the purpose would be to hide them from international eyes into what is supposed to be a very far-flung area of Sudan."

Mr. Dirdeiry Ahmed, the deputy ambassador to the Sudan Embassy in Nairobi, denied the reports. He says they are part of an effort by the SPLA and other groups to discredit the Sudanese government in the eyes of the international community, thus weakening their position in the final round of peace talks with the SPLA next week in Kenya.

"This is [a] figment of someone's imagination," he said. "Luckily, we're having two international bodies monitoring the Nuba Mountains and the Shilluk Kingdom. We're having the VMT there at the Shilluk Kingdom and the JMC, the Joint Military Commission there in the Nuba Mountains. And definitely they are the right bodies to review the allegations. Nothing like this is happening. They are just rumors. They are definitely being touted by some people who just want to make use of what is happening in Darfur and to create more complications for the government of Sudan."

The VMT that Mr. Ahmed mentions refers to the Verification Monitoring Team, the monitoring arm of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development which is overseeing the peace process.

A spokesman for the VMT said they have not investigated, nor have they been asked to investigate, whether the reports are true. The JMC also has not investigated these latest reports of janjaweed movements in southern Sudan.

It's not the first time pro-government militias have amassed in this remote region of southern Sudan. In April, the militias attacked more than 20 villages near Malakal, displacing tens of thousands of people, according to VMT investigators.

But several sources were quick to point out that the militias behind those attacks were mainly black Africans aligned with the government of Sudan, not the Arab fighters from Darfur who reportedly are now taking refuge in the southern Sudan.

According to a Western analyst who asked not to be identified, the janjaweed fighters - if that is what they are - fall below the radar of the monitoring agencies because no human rights violations are being reported. The fighters are not attacking people, they are just getting out of Darfur, he said.

As peace talks near, the SPLA is becoming increasingly wary of a Khartoum government that seems to be trying to amass troops and militias near rebel-held areas of southern Dafur, just in time for the dry season when the roads are once again passable.

"What we know also is that the government is amassing militias, making them ready for the dry season," said Mr. Akol. "This exposes the government's intentions for another military offensive rather than the peace process that is under way."

So far, Sudan has yet to comply with a U.N. mandate to rein in the Arab militias accused of carrying out a genocide against Darfur's black African population. In more than a year and half of fighting, the janjaweed militias have killed up to 50,000 people and displaced more than a million. And the fighting continues even as the U.N. threatens sanctions against the already beleaguered Khartoum government.