Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - The Sudanese government has denied an international human rights group's charges that it has an official policy of supporting a notorious militia operating in the war-torn Darfur region.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says it has obtained copies of Sudanese government documents providing evidence of official support for the militia known as the Janjaweed.
The militia is blamed for the displacement of a million people in Darfur, and it was accused in a report this week of using the systematic rape of women as a weapon in the conflict.
Since early last year the government and Arab militias have been at war with two African rebel groups fighting for autonomy, but hundreds of thousands of ordinary residents have been affected too, and an estimated 10,000 have died.
HRW said the confidential Arabic-language documents, dated February and March 2004, called for provisions and ammunition to be delivered to known Janjaweed leaders, camps and loyalist tribes.
In one document, dated Feb. 13, a Khartoum official instructs local authorities to "allow the activities of the mujahedeen [militia] and the volunteers under the command of Sheikh Musa Hilal to proceed in the areas of [North Darfur] and to secure their vital needs."
Hilal is a known Janjaweed leader. The "mujahedeen" are members of the Popular Defense Forces, a paramilitary unit organized by Khartoum that has frequently been used to fight in southern Sudan, the rights group said.
The HRW allegations came just hours after another rights group, Amnesty International, released a report charging that Khartoum-sponsored militias are using rape as a weapon to destabilize Darfur ethnic groups.
"I saw many cases of Janjaweed raping women and girls," a 37-year-old Sudanese eyewitness told Amnesty International. "They are happy when they rape. They sing when they rape and they tell us that we are just slaves and that they can do with us how they wish."
Another woman said: "Five to six men would rape us, one after the other, for hours during six days, every night. My husband could not forgive me after this, he disowned me."
Foreign affairs ministry officials in Khartoum denied both reports.
Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail told journalists there was a suspicion that HRW was trying to pressure the U.N. Security Council into imposing sanctions against Sudan.
The government says it has sent 6,000 police officers to camps in Darfur to protect refugees and keep order, but HRW director Kenneth Roth said in reaction the international community "can no longer trust Khartoum to police itself when it is part of a large problem."
Peter Takirambudde, executive director of HRW's Africa Division, said it was absurd to distinguish between the Sudanese government forces and the militias.
"These documents show that militia activity has not just been condoned, it's been specifically supported by Sudan government officials."
Both rights organizations called on the United Nations to set up an international inquiry to examine evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of international humanitarian law including rape, as well as allegations of genocide.
Efforts by the African Union to mediate between Khartoum and the rebel groups ended prematurely last week when the rebels withdrew from the talks.
The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum has expressed concern about the deteriorating situation -- humanitarian agencies say more than a million lives are at risk - but did not say whether Washington would consider imposing further sanctions on Khartoum.
During a recent visit to the country, Secretary of State Colin Powell warned that unless Khartoum provides access for aid, ends attacks by the militias, and renews talks with rebels the international community would consider action, including action by the Security Council.
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