Sudan ordered death squads, says warlord

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The Independent Online

A powerful Sudanese sheikh, widely regarded as a senior leader of the Janjaweed militia, has said that the Sudanese government in Khartoum asked him to supply fighters to attack civilians in Darfur.

A powerful Sudanese sheikh, widely regarded as a senior leader of the Janjaweed militia, has said that the Sudanese government in Khartoum asked him to supply fighters to attack civilians in Darfur.

Musa Hilal, described the by the US State Department as a Janjaweed co-ordinator, said the government had asked him to mobilise the 300,000 tribesmen he claims to be responsible for. In an interview with Human Rights Watch, he said: "The government has told us to mobilise people. We've gone to the people to tell them to join the PDF [militia] and defend your country, defend the land, defend the country's most important things, and that you have to fight for your survival and the country's stability."

The Sudanese government has always said the violence in Darfur was caused by ancient tribal rivalries, and that it had never encouraged or supported one side over the other. It has also promised repeatedly to disarm the militias in Darfur and blamed the continuing violence in the region on its inability to bring the groups under control.

But Mr Hilal said the government had the ability to disarm the PDF - a paramilitary group that is part of the Janjaweed - if it chose to do so. He said: "They [The government] are the ones that gave the PDF guns. They're the ones that recruited the PDF; they're the ones that pay their salaries; they give them their ID cards. They can disarm them or they can leave them alone; that's the government's concern."

He added that the army had been responsible for attacks against civilians, saying: "All of the people in the field are led by top army commanders ... These people get their orders from the western command centre, and from Khartoum."

Mr Hilal has been jailed twice; once in 1997 for attacking 17 Africans in Darfur. Sudan's Vice-President, Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, is believed to have intervened to release him from prison. US and UN investigators have said they believe Mr Taha has played a major role in orchestrating attacks in Darfur.

Mr Hilal denies having taken part in any of Janjaweed attacks, but several eyewitnesses claim to have seen him addressing crowds of militiamen in marketplaces and urging them on to victory. Others say Mr Hilal has taken several women as prisoners and held them at Jebel Jur near his military camps in Misteriya, north Darfur.

Another group of women who were trying to return to their home, a two-and-a-half hour donkey ride from Misteriya, say their Arab former neighbours told them: "This is the land of Musa Hilal. You must not go and take anything from there."

Human Rights Watch says it has obtained Sudanese government documents that ask local security units not to interfere with the men under Mr Hilal's control. Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Africa division said: "Musa Hilal squarely contradicts the government's claims that it has 'no relationship' with local militias."

The US said last year that it believed the violence in Darfur constituted genocide, and it wants to set up an international war crimes tribunal, such as those set up for the former Yugoslavia and the Rwandan genocide, to try senior leaders such as Mr Hilal.

But a UN commission of inquiry concluded at the end of January that it did not believe that genocide had taken place in Darfur. Instead, it suggested that the attacks may be counted as "crimes against humanity, and recommended individuals responsible for the most serious should be tried by the International Criminal Court. However the UN inquiry refrained from naming suspects.

The Security Council has not yet decided how to deal with the commission's recommendation.

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