Dozens reported killed in attack on Darfur village

Opheera Mcdoom

Mail And Guardian, 13 Novembre 2006

Up to 30 villagers were killed and 40 wounded when armed men riding horses and camels attacked a village in the Darfur region of western Sudan, an African Union official said on Monday.

The attackers are suspected to be Janjaweed, militiamen who have killed and plundered across the arid region, helping to drive about two million people into camps, said the official, contacted by Reuters in Sudan, who asked not to be named.

The AU has a 7 000-strong peace force in Darfur that has been unable to stem the violence. A United Nations official said on Monday the world body will give the AU $77-million to pay for more troops and equipment.

But some analysts say only a greatly expanded force with a more robust mandate will stop the killing that Washington has called genocide -- a charge Khartoum denies.

The three-hour attack on Saturday was on Sirba, about 45km north of El Geneina, capital of West Darfur state and close to the Sudan-Chad border, the AU official said.

"The attackers were on camels and horses. Reports indicate up to 30 villagers killed and 40 injured and half of the village was razed," the AU official said.

Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, a leader of the rebel National Redemption Front, said by telephone that the Sudanese army took part with the Janjaweed in the attack on Sirba and a similar attack in the nearby Abu Surouj area.

But an army spokesperson said government forces were not involved in any operations in the Sirba area and did not even have a large troop presence there.

State of emergency
The conflict in Darfur has intensified after a short-lived lull that followed a partial peace agreement signed by one of the rebel factions in May.

The conflict broke out in 2003 when local people, mostly non-Arabs, took up arms to fight for a greater share in power and central government resources.

Since then, the violence has spilled across the border to neighbouring Chad and Central African Republic.

On Monday Chad declared a state of emergency in the capital, Ndjamena, and some eastern areas on the Sudanese border.

"This state of emergency aims to halt the serious attacks on public order due to the rampant insecurity in these regions," Chadian Communications Minister Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor said after a special Cabinet meeting.

Chad and the Central African Republic have called for the deployment of international troops to secure their borders.

The United States and UN have tried to persuade the Sudanese government to let a UN peacekeeping force deploy within Darfur but Khartoum has refused, saying that to accept foreign troops would be like a return to colonialism.

In the face of Khartoum's refusal, advocates of a UN mission are looking at alternatives that will protect the people of Darfur while winning Sudanese government approval.

One idea is a hybrid force combining the UN and the AU but the details have not been worked out.

Until a future peacekeeping force can be agreed, the AU force has said it needed funding for equipment and at least 4 000 more troops to enforce a ceasefire.

Personnel, equipment
Hedi Annabi, a UN assistant secretary general for peacekeeping operations, said: "We have agreed on two packages of support worth around $77-million for the [AU] mission."

"The government of Sudan has agreed to the deployment of the two packages," he added at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.

Annabi said $22-million will fund military staff officers, police advisers and civilian personnel to strengthen the chain of command of the AU mission.

A second tranche of $55-million will go towards equipment and personnel and a specialised support unit.

"Since the government of Sudan is against the deployment of a UN operation in Darfur, we are looking at ways in which we can reinforce Amis [the African mission in Sudan] to enable it to perform its task effectively," Annabi said. -- Reuters

Additional reporting by Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa and Betel Miarom in Ndjamena