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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Nation/World

Darfur fighting eases, but danger remains

Rodrique Ngowi Associated Press

RUMBEK, Sudan – Fighting between government and rebel troops in Darfur has decreased in the past month, but Arab militias still attack, rape and abduct villagers in the troubled region, the U.N. chief envoy to Sudan said Saturday.

Jan Pronk was speaking during a visit to the town of Rumbek in southern Sudan, where he was meeting the leader of the main southern rebel group that signed a peace agreement with the government this month to end a separate 21-year civil war in the south. The peace deal does not cover the Darfur conflict in western Sudan.

“The violence is still perpetrated by pro-government militias and other armed groups that are very difficult to control,” Pronk told the Associated Press. “They attack villages, abduct people and increasingly use rape as a tool of war.

“But between the government and the rebel movements, there is more adherence to the cease-fire than a month ago – and that is a step forward,” Pronk said.

Sudan’s government and the two main rebel groups in Darfur signed cease-fire agreements in April and November meant to enable aid workers to care for those affected by the violence. But they have frequently violated them.

The Darfur conflict started in February 2003 when two non-Arab African rebel groups took up arms in a bid for more power and a greater share of resources.

The government responded with a counterinsurgency campaign in which a mostly Arab militia known as the Janjaweed has committed wide-scale abuses against people it says are allied to the rebels.

Hardships including disease and malnutrition are believed to have killed more than 70,000 of those displaced within Darfur since March. Many more have been killed in nearly two years of fighting, although no firm estimate of the direct toll of the war yet exists.

Diplomats and analysts say the Darfur conflict endangers the difficult reconciliation process between north and south.

Pronk’s talks in the south with John Garang, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, were aimed at resolving differences with southern rebels over the composition of a U.N. peacekeeping force for the region. He will also press rebels to allow the peacekeepers to carry weapons.

Garang arrived Saturday at the rebel group’s headquarters in Rumbek, 560 miles south of the capital, Khartoum, for the first time since signing a comprehensive peace deal two weeks ago. Upon his arrival at the local airport, Garang stepped over a white cow that had been slaughtered on the tarmac, considered a peace offering among his Dinka tribe.

Garang told hundreds of supporters at a rally the peace deal meant southerners would have to help negotiate settlements to other conflicts in Darfur and east Sudan.

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