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Last Updated: Monday, 23 August 2004, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Militia chief denies Darfur atrocities

By Jihan Alaily
BBC, Khartoum

Arab militia fighter on horseback in Darfur region, 25 April
Sheet says his tribe was armed by the government to fight rebels
One-eyed and dressed in traditional white, flowing gowns, Ahmed Khalil Sheet is an Arab militia leader in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

Arab militiamen from his tribe - the Mahameed - have been accused of committing atrocities in the region as part of the Janjaweed.

Mr Sheet admits that his tribe was armed by the government to fight the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) rebel groups.
The civilians were caught up in the middle
Arab militia leader Ahmed Khalil Sheet

"Our tribes provided men to fight the rebels side by side with the government," he told BBC News Online.

"We fulfilled our duty to the government which is our guardian."

But he rejects accusations that his militia have carried out violent attacks on African villages.

"We are Muslims, this is against our code of honour."

He blames civilian casualties on the rebels for deliberately basing themselves inside African villages for cover.

The UN estimates that up to 50,000 people have died in 18 months of violence.

"The government was shooting at the rebels who were hiding behind the civilians. The civilians were caught up in the middle".

'Bandits'

DARFUR CONFLICT
map
More than 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

Mr Sheet objects to the term "Janjaweed," which he says refers to bandits.

He says that members of his nomadic tribe are often targeted by Janjaweed as they move from north to south Darfur, looking for grazing lands for their animals.

Along those long routes, he says "we have been targeted by the Janjaweed, who are after our God given wealth".

"They regularly kill our men and steel our camels, sheep and cows".

Settling scores

Mr Sheet says that tension in Darfur over land and grazing rights between the mostly nomadic Arabs and farmers from the Fur, Massaleet and Zagawa ethnic groups has existed for decades.

But in the past such disputes were resolved through local conflict resolution mechanisms.

"Now with the advanced weapons that the rebels hold, we were forced to resort to arms to protect ourselves and our animals."

The militia leader says international pressure is not the right way to end the conflict in Darfur.

He stresses that talks, bringing together all parties in the conflict, is the only way to stop the violence.

But he says the Arab tribes in west Darfur will only lay down their arms when two conditions are met - the rebels put down their weapons and the government provides security for them and their animals.




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