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Protect us or arm us, Darfur rebel leader says

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March 21, 2007 (PARIS) — A rebel leader from Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region said in an interview here that the UN must either protect the area’s residents or arm them so they can defend themselves.

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Abdelwahid al-Nur

"Either UN forces come to protect our people or the international community has to arm us to defend our people from genocide," Abdul Wahid Mohammed Nur said in an interview with AFP on Tuesday. "These are the only two options."

Nur, who is on a visit to Europe to draw attention to the situation in Darfur, is leader of one faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement. His faction has refused to sign a peace agreement with the Sudanese government.

Another faction of the group signed a peace deal with Khartoum in May 2006. Nur called the leader of that faction, Minni Minnawi, "a puppet" of the Sudanese government.

"We refuse to sign an agreement for security reasons, as long as there is no clear disarmament of Janjaweeds," he said, referring to the government proxy militia in Darfur.

"They committed crimes, killed tens of hundreds of thousands of our people, raped hundreds of thousands of our people, burnt hundreds of villages, committed genocide."

The war in Darfur erupted in February 2003 when rebels from minority tribes in the vast western province took up arms to demand an equal share of national resources. That prompted a heavy-handed crackdown from Sudanese government forces and Janjaweed militia.

According to UN estimates, 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced.

A UN security council resolution in August called for the gradual deployment of a joint UN-African Union force of 20,000 to the region to bolster the under-equipped AU force deployed about three years ago.

Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir rejected the resolution. In November, he agreed to a compromise plan for a hybrid AU-UN peacekeeping operation, but has since backed away from the agreement.

"Who is going to disarm them? The government who has armed them?" Nur said of the Janjaweed. "They can only be disarmed by an international force with a clear and strong mandate."

Nur, who is also a lawyer, warned that history would judge Western countries if they did not act on Darfur.

"I do appreciate the international community for their resolutions, but action speaks louder than words," he said.

(AFP)

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