Sudan to help protect Darfur refugees

Sudan will set up 18 "settlements" in the troubled western Darfur to house more than a million people who fled the fighting and will train them to use guns to defend themselves, a newspaper reported Friday.

    Sudanese government will arm Darfur villagers and teach them self-defence

    The independent Al-Sahafa daily quoted Interior Minister Major General Abd Al-Rahim Muhammad Husain as announcing the plan amid heavy US and international pressure to end the humanitarian crisis.

    Husain said eight settlements would be set up in Southern Darfur state and five each in Western and Northern Darfur states.

    The plan will "facilitate offering services and protection of the villagers who were previously living in numerous scattered villages," the minister said.

    At least 10,000 people believed to have been killed in Darfur since February 2003 when rebels rose up against Khartoum, prompting the government to assign the marauding Janjaweed militia to deal with the rebels.

    The World Health Organisation has warned that some 10,000 more people are likely to die over the coming month in Darfur without a massive aid operation.

    The reports came as the African Union set a date for a new round of peace negotiations between the warring parties. 

    AU president Alpha Umar Konare announced in the Chadian capital N'Djamena where a commission tasked with monitoring a ceasefire in Darfur has been formed that talks would begin on 15 July in Addis Ababa. 

    Conditions worsening

    About 900,000 of the displaced are spread across 130 makeshift camps with little water, no sanitation and poor health care.

    The onset of the rainy season is expected to make their situation worse and many of the displaced are still afraid to return home because of the Janjaweed.

    Husain, who is also the presidential representative in Darfur and holds considerable power over the area, added that the displaced "will be trained in carrying weapons so they can take part in defending themselves in the new positions."

    The measures are in addition to steps Khartoum announced earlier this week during visits to Darfur by US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN chief Kofi Annan, including sending more government forces to provide security and easing restrictions on humanitarian groups.

    However the minister described the food situation in Darfur as satisfactory, saying there were now 117,000 tonnes of provisions which could meet the region's needs for several months.

    SOURCE: AFP


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