Sudan to start disarming militias

Khartoum is to start next week disarming the Arab militias accused of a reign of terror in the western Sudanese region of Darfur as demanded by the United Nations Security Council, a police chief said on Thursday.

On the diplomatic front, Sudan’s government pressed ahead with “an open dialogue” with the UN and aid agencies in an effort to avert international sanctions, while Washington said it will keep up the pressure.

“The security and judicial commissions are going to start work disarming the uncontrolled militias in Darfur next week,” Brigadier General Jamal al-Hueres, police chief of North Darfur state, told the pro-government Sudan Media Centre.

The disarmament of the state-sponsored militias “will be carried out both on a voluntary basis and through searches carried out by the police”, he added.

Last Friday, the UN Security Council passed a resolution giving Khartoum 30 days to bring to heel the militias, especially the Janjaweed, or face possible sanctions.

The rebel movements in resource-rich Darfur, a vast region the size of France, have laid down the same condition for a resumption of peace talks that were broken off last month.

Information Minister Al-Zhawi Ibrahim Malik said on Tuesday that under an accord struck with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last month, the disarmament of militias will be “carried out simultaneously with the confinement to camp of the rebels under the supervision of an African force”.

He warned that the government will deal with “extreme severity with those who refused to hand over their weapons”.

According to government sources, the guerrillas who launched their revolt against the Khartoum government in their neglected region in February 2003 number about 4 000, while Western estimates vary between 6 000 and 10 000.

The UN is to send a team to Addis Ababa to help the African Union set up a peacekeeping force in war-ravaged Darfur, where more than one million people face imminent starvation, Annan said on Wednesday.

The AU, meanwhile, said it may send a 2 000-strong peacekeeping force to protect observers monitoring a shaky ceasefire and the estimated one million displaced civilians returning to their homes.

“Sudanese authorities have started an open dialogue with the UN to meet the demands of the international community on Darfur,” an envoy of a European Union country posted in Sudan said, asking not to be named.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said he is holding regular meetings with UN representatives in Khartoum “to evaluate the needs of Darfur” and thrash out problems.

Several rounds have been held since the July 30 resolution, he said.

“We regretted the Security Council resolution, which we regard as unjust, but we will continue to work with the UN to implement the agreements” with Annan, he said.

“We want Mr Annan, in his coming report, to note the progress achieved.”

The UN secretary general, as a follow-up to the resolution, is due to submit a progress report to the 15-member body at the start of September on the situation in Darfur.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in comments published on Thursday in the Wall Street Journal, said that Sudan has yet to “take decisive steps to end the violence in Darfur”.

“To date, the government of Sudan has removed many obstacles to humanitarian access, cooperated with the AU ceasefire monitors, and agreed to participate in political talks,” he wrote.

“It has not, however, taken decisive steps to end the violence,” he said. “International pressure will continue to increase until Khartoum moves decisively against the Janjaweed.”

But the authorities in Khartoum are seeking “a moving deadline” for implementation of the resolution, to take into account moves to end the humanitarian crisis, officials in Sudan said.

Such a scenario will “prevent sanctions, which are something which can only complicate the situation instead of resolving it”, one official said.

Humanitarian organisations operating in Sudan have already pointed to open and unrestricted access to the disaster zone since July, after a string of previous protests that they were being impeded by the authorities.

In Egypt, an Arab League official said on Thursday that Arab states are prepared to send observers as part of the planned AU force.

“A number of Arab countries are prepared to contribute military observers to the AU mission,” said Samir Hosni, the official in charge of Sudan affairs for the Cairo-based bloc.

Arab foreign ministers are to hold an “urgent” meeting on the crisis in the Egyptian capital on Sunday.—Sapa-AFP

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