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Darfur force needs to extend to Chad - rights group

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Feb 5, 2006 (DAKAR) — An international peacekeeping force in Sudan’s Darfur region needs to be extended to police the barren frontier with Chad and stop almost daily cross-border raids by militia groups, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.

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Africa Union armoured vehicles deploy in Sudan’s Darfur region town of el-Fasher November 18, 2005. (Reuters)

The U.S.-based watchdog said tens of thousands of people were now displaced within Chad because of frequent attacks by Sudanese and Chadian militias based in Darfur, sometimes with apparent Sudanese backing including helicopter gunships.

"Sudan’s policy of arming militias and letting them loose is spilling over the border and civilians have no protection from their attacks, in Darfur or in Chad," Peter Takirambudde, Africa director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a report.

HRW said the Chad side of the border had become more vulnerable to raids following an attack on the town of Adre in December by rebels opposed to Chad’s President Idriss Deby.

"The attack on Adre prompted the Chadian government to redeploy its forces away from border villages south of the town, leaving large areas at the mercy of uniformed militiamen riding horses and camels," the report said.

The rights group said it had documented numerous cross-border attacks on eastern Chadian villages between the towns of Adre, Ade and Modoyna since early December.

In the region of Borota, south of Adre, 40 out of 85 villages had been attacked and abandoned by residents, with 16 civilians killed in the area in raids between Dec. 16 and Jan. 20 alone, the report said.

"Dozens of witnesses, who were interviewed separately, described the attackers as ethnic Arabs visibly different from the local population, wearing Sudanese army khakis and speaking Sudanese Arabic," HRW said.

"The (U.N.) Security Council must act at once to prevent more Chadian civilians from suffering the nightmare next door," the rights group said.

Darfur erupted into violence in early 2003 when African tribes took up arms, accusing the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum of neglect.

The government retaliated by arming Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, who began a campaign of murder, rape, arson and plunder and drove 2 million villagers into squalid camps. Khartoum denies responsibility.

The Security Council on Friday approved a first step in sending U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur by authorising U.N. officials to draw up a range of options for the operation.

The African Union, which has 7,000 monitors and soldiers in Darfur, has said it supports "in principle" joining or relinquishing its mission to the United Nations but will not take a final decision until late March.

(Reuters)

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