Home | News    Monday 23 August 2004

Obasanjo warns Sudan on militia, calls for AU peacekeepers

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ABUJA, Aug 23 (AFP) — Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo on Sunday warned Sudan to move more quickly to disarm the feared Janjaweed militia and called for African Union peacekeepers to be sent to Darfur.

On the eve of an African Union conference on the conflict in Sudan’s war-torn western province, Obasanjo issued a sterner than usual warning to Khartoum over its alleged failure to reign in the notorious Arab gunmen.

"The government’s argument is ’If we disarm them before the rebels what will happen?’ But who is to disarm the rebels, those who armed the Janjaweed? This is where I believe that the effort of the AU will be necessary," he said.

"And that is why, in the first instance, we took up our protection force, in addition to the observer team," Obasanjo said, in a televised interview.

Nigeria and Rwanda have made more than 2,000 soldiers available to transform a small African Union ceasefire monitoring team already in Darfur into a genuine peacekeeping force, but Sudan has not yet allowed them to deploy.

The United Nations reports that more than one million people have been driven from their homes in 18 months of fighting and that more than 30,000 have been killed, many of them in Janjaweed raids against unarmed villagers.

"The Sudanese authorities, probably as much as anybody else, know that they have to move on Darfur," Obasanjo said.

"The first responsibility of any government anywhere in the world is the welfare of its citizens," he said, insisting on the importance of allowing humanitarian aid into the stricken area.

"The president of Sudan told us at the AU summit early in July that there are three principle armed groups in the Darfur area; those that are called rebels, those that are called Janjaweed and those that the president described as ’marauders’; people who just take up arms and cause havoc."

"The three of them have to be disarmed. The reluctance, or the seeming reluctance, that one sees in the government is to my mind that of what to do with the Janjaweed," he warned.

"The leaders of the government of Sudan itself proclaimed that the Janjaweed were armed by the government. The government armed them so that they could be used against the rebels," he said.

On Monday, Obasanjo will host a meeting between the Sudanese government and Darfur’s rebel groups, who are seeking a better economic and political deal for their region’s black African tribes from the Arab-dominated authorities.

Along with several other regional powerbrokers, he is expected to push for a start to political negotiations and for the rebel fighters to be moved into cantonments prior to their demobilisation.

"Meanwhile, the government of Sudan must lean heavily on the Janjaweed and on the so-called ’marauders’," he said.

"There’s no human problem that can’t be solved, if the goodwill is there and the right attitude is there, by dialogue, by discussion by give and take."

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