Government Accused of Darfur Attacks, 04/08/03

Government accused of Darfur attacks

NAIROBI, April 8, 2003 (IRIN) -- The Sudanese government has been accused of stepping up attacks against indigenous communities in Darfur, western Sudan, as part of its response to the recent formation of a new armed movement.

According to Muhammad Adam Yahya, chairman of the US-based Masalit Community in Exile, the attacks include the killing last month of a prominent religious leader of the indigenous Masalit community.

In a statement, Yahya claimed government-sponsored Arab militias opened fire on Shaykh Salih Dakoro and four of his companions while travelling to West Darfur.

He further accused the Khartoum government of exploiting the international focus on the current conflict in Iraq to escalate human rights abuses in western Sudan, an area not covered by the ceasefire between the government and rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).

"In the past few months, the Sudanese government security forces and Arab militias have dramatically increased attacks against leaders of Masalit, Fur, Zaghawah, Tama and other non-Arab groups in Western Sudan," the statement said.

The new rebel movement in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), was formed early this year.

In a political declaration released in March, the movement's secretary general Minni Arkou Minnawi said it had taken up arms because the Khartoum government had "introduced policies of marginalisation, racial discrimination, and exploitation, that had disrupted the peaceful coexistence between the region's African and Arab communities".

George Garang, a spokesman for the SPLM/A in Nairobi, told IRIN that the rebellion in Darfur was an "uprising against injustice".

However, Muhammad Ahmad Dirdeiry, spokesman at the Sudanese embassy in Nairobi, said he had no information concerning the Darfur region.

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