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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 August, 2004, 18:39 GMT 19:39 UK
Analysis: Reining in the militia
By Koert Lindijer
In Nairobi

Darfur refugee
Around one million people have been displaced and 50,000 killed
A Janjaweed fighter walks hand in hand with a government soldier in the market place of Krenic, a village two hours' drive from Al-Junaynah, capital of West Darfur.

Camels herded by the wives of Janjaweed fighters suck mangos from trees owned by local farmers.

The farmers have been displaced to the dusty plains outside Krenic, and the village is controlled by men from a Janjaweed base nearby, as well as by government soldiers.

The close teamwork of government and militia fighters in Darfur is visible everywhere.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will have a hard job breaking up that intimate relationship.

His government denies backing the Janjaweed, but in May I saw him address a meeting of his supporters in Nyala, south Darfur, and salute the assembled Janjaweed fighters: "Long live the Mujahideen."

Witnesses in Darfur tell of many visits by dignitaries from Khartoum to recruit new militia members
"The Sudanese government is asked by the international community to do what it can't do," remarked a diplomat who attended African Union-mediated peace talks in Addis Ababa recently.

"Bashir is under pressure from all sides, and his back has been put against the wall."

Tribal militias

Disarmament sounds odd in the context of Darfur, because no inhabitant would even think of handing over his weapon - the region is much too insecure.

Darfur was a region swamped with arms long before the present conflict erupted. Regulation of arms seems more realistic.

The successive weak Sudanese governments have, since independence in 1956, used tribal militias. The country is too large for the national army.

1m displaced
Up to 50,000 killed
More at risk from disease and starvation
Arab militias accused of ethnic cleansing
Sudan blames rebels for starting conflict

Sudan may be a dictatorship, but as a police state it has failed, because its security services cannot control the whole nation.

The Janjaweed in its present form was set up by security agencies under the control of Vice-President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha.

"The security services got the upper hand in Darfur," said a former close collaborator of President Bashir in Khartoum, "and the regular army is not very happy about it."

The government was caught unaware when in April 2003 the new rebel movement, the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), attacked El-Fasher airport in Darfur, destroying several planes.

President Bashir was humiliated and he wanted revenge.

Like in other conflict zones before - for example, the Nuba Mountains in the beginning of the 1990s and Western Upper Nile in 2000 - Khartoum employed militias to do the major fighting.

President Bashir did not want to rely on his 90,000-strong regular army. It consists to a large extent of Darfuri foot soldiers whom he does not trust. So the Janjaweed was created.

Khartoum backing

Eyewitnesses in Darfur tell of many visits last year by high dignitaries from Khartoum to recruit new members for the militia.

Human Rights Watch, in a recent report, quotes from a government document in which local authorities are being asked to facilitate the Janjaweed's activities.

Janjaweed militia
The Arab militia are accused of ethnic cleansing in Darfur
Arms and food supplies were regularly delivered by government helicopters to a camp of Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal, who now resides in Khartoum.

With so many high officials involved it is, with the present power set-up in Khartoum, nearly impossible to neutralise the Janjaweed.

There are also implications outside Darfur. Vice-President Taha is the architect of the peace deal signed this year to end 20 years of war in the south.

Not all Arab tribes contributed fighters to the Janjaweed.

Many tribal elders refused to allow their communities to join, so as not to endanger their fragile relationship with African farmers, on whom they depend for fodder in the dry season.

This creates difficulties for the government to use traditional tribal structures to rein in the Janjaweed.


The main clans involved on the Janjaweed side are the Jalul, Ereigat and Mahariya of Musa Hilal.

But the conflict has also attracted bandits from the whole Sahel, who came for free "shopping" in Darfur and will be difficult to stop.

They will fight back when their erstwhile sponsors start turning against them.

Disarmament of the Janjaweed may lead to fighting among Arab militia groups and with the government - a development from which the rebel movements would reap profit.

The most likely thing to happen is that the militias will be hedged in by the government's structures.

For several weeks, the government has been trying to absorb Janjaweed elements into its paramilitary force, the Popular Defence Forces (PDF), and into its police force.

It is not yet clear whether different uniforms will mean different behaviour, and whether the impunity will end.

The BBC's Paul Wood
"Sudan's government feels threatened, so has called their supporters to the streets"

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