The pledge by a senior police chief on Thursday comes after the United Nations Security Council demanded action against the Janjawid and other militias last week.

"The security and judicial commissions are going to start work disarming the uncontrolled militias in Darfur next week," Brigadier General Jamal al-Hueres, police chief of North Darfur state, told the pro-government Sudan Media Centre.

The disarmament of the militias "will be carried out both on a voluntary basis and through searches carried out by the police," he added.

Last Friday, the UN Security Council passed a resolution giving Khartoum 30 days to bring to heel the militias, especially the Janjawid, or face possible sanctions.

The rebel movements in resource-rich Darfur, a vast region the size of France, have laid down the same condition for a resumption of peace talks they walked away from last month.

African peackeepers

Information Minister al-Zhawi Ibrahim Malik said on Tuesday that under an accord struck with UN chief Kofi Annan last month, the disarmament of militias would be "carried out simultaneously with the confinement to camp of the rebels under the supervision of an African force".

He warned the government would deal with "extreme severity with those who refused to hand over their weapons".

"The security and judicial commissions are going to start work disarming the uncontrolled militias in Darfur next week"

Brig. General Jamal al-Hueres, North Darfur police chief

According to government sources, the Darfur rebels who launched their revolt against the Khartoum government in the neglected region in February 2003 number 4000, while Western estimates vary between 6000 and 10,000.

The United Nations is to send a team to Addis Ababa to help the African Union (AU) set up a peacekeeping force in war-ravaged Darfur, where more than one million people face imminent starvation, Annan said on Wednesday.

The AU, meanwhile, said it may send a 2000-strong peacekeeping force to protect observers monitoring a shaky ceasefire and the estimated one million displaced civilians returning to their homes.

"Sudanese authorities have started an open dialogue with the UN to meet the demands of the international community on Darfur," an envoy of a European Union, who asked not to be named, said.

'Unjust' resolution

The minister of state for foreign affairs, Tigani Saleh Fadel, meanwhile, said he was holding regular meetings with UN representatives in Khartoum "to evaluate the needs of Darfur" and thrash out problems.

Several rounds have been held since the 30 July resolution, he said.

The UN security council has called
for action against the Janjawid

"We regretted the Security Council resolution, which we regard as unjust, but we will continue to work with the United Nations to implement the agreements" with Annan, he said.

"We want Mr Annan, in his coming report, to note the progress achieved."

The UN secretary general, as a follow-up to the resolution, is due to submit a progress report to the 15-member body at the start of September on the situation in Darfur.

However, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in comments published on Thursday in the Wall Street Journal, said Sudan had yet to "take decisive steps to end the violence in Darfur".

US condemnation

"To date, the government of Sudan has removed many obstacles to humanitarian access, cooperated with the African Union ceasefire monitors, and agreed to participate in political talks," he wrote.

"It has not, however, taken decisive steps to end the violence," he said. "International pressure will continue to increase until Khartoum moves decisively against the Janjawid."

Darfurian rebels are accused of
starting the conflict

But the authorities in Khartoum are seeking "a moving deadline" for implementation of the resolution, to take into account moves to end the humanitarian crisis, officials in Sudan said.

Such a scenerio would "prevent sanctions, which are something which can only complicate the situation instead of resolving it", one official said.

Humanitarian organisations operating in Sudan have already pointed to open and unrestricted access to the disaster zone since July, after a string of previous protests that they were being impeded by the authorities.