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  • KHARTOUM, March 6 (Reuters) - Two African Union peacekeepers were killed and one was seriously wounded in Sudan's violent west when former Darfur rebel troops opened fire on them, an AU statement said on Tuesday.

    The death tally brought to 11 the number of AU personnel killed since it started its mission in Darfur in 2004.

    "Two AU Protection Force soldiers were abducted and subsequently killed. A third soldier was critically injured," the statement said.

    "This deplorable and condemnable act was perpetrated by gunmen believed to be elements belonging to SLM (Minni), which is in full control of Gereida," it added.

    Minni Arcua Minnawi, leader of the only faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement to sign a peace deal in May last year, has since lost much ground in Darfur and been sidelined in Khartoum.

    In Gereida last year one aid worker was raped during a coordinated attack on humanitarian agencies in the town which is controlled by Minni forces.

    The world's largest aid operation is underway in Darfur where experts estimate 200,000 have been killed since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing the central government of marginalising the region.

    More than 130,000 Darfuris languish in makeshift camps around Gereida town, the largest camp in the remote west, where 2.5 million people were driven from their homes.

    One AU source said the dead AU soldiers were Nigerian.

    On March 1 the AU said one of its civilian personnel had been attacked in the force's headquarters in Darfur's main town of el-Fasher.

    On Tuesday the AU said former rebel forces surrounded an office in el-Fasher and threatened the officer in charge.

    Khartoum says the security situation is good in Darfur and that the Western media is exaggerating the conflict. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir rejects a U.N. Security Council resolution authorising some 22,500 U.N. troops and police to take over the struggling AU force.

    The AU itself has come under attack by Darfuris angry that it cannot protect them as well as rebel groups who accused the mission of being biased because it mediated the 2006 peace deal.

    AU says former rebels kill 2 peacekeepers

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    • The Sudanese government has been taking part in international crimes in Darfur and has "failed to protect the population" in the region a human rights mission from the UN says.

      In a damning report to the human rights council on Monday the team said the situation in the area is "characterised by gross and systematic violations of human rights".

      "The mission further concludes that the government of Sudan has manifestly failed to protect the population of Darfur from large-scale international crimes and has itself orchestrated and participated in these crimes," the report said.

      The report was commissioned by the human rights council in an emergency session last December.

      After attempting to enter Sudan for around three weeks in February, the council concluded that the Sudanese government had no intention of co-operating with the United Nations.

      The team was led by Jody Williams, a Nobel peace prize laureate, who told Al Jazeera that the international community needed to intervene more strongly in Darfur and that "words without action are irrelevant."

      "People do not deserve to die because of the actions of a few men in Khartoum," she said.

      The report urged stronger UN Security Council intervention, sanctions and criminal prosecution.

      The violence in Darfur has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced around 2.5 million people from their homes as rebels fight pro-government militias.

      Some, including the US government, have described the violence as genocide.

      "The principal pattern is one of a violent counterinsurgency campaign waged by the government of the Sudan in concert with janjaweed militia, and targeting mostly civilians," the report says.

      "Rebel forces are also guilty of serious abuses of human rights and violations of humanitarian law."

      The report said important steps have been taken by the international community, including the African Union and the UN, but "these have been largely resisted and obstructed, and have proven inadequate and ineffective."

      Humanitarian agencies say they face mounting difficulties in getting help to the desperately needy, and increasingly aid workers themselves are targets of the violence.

      The government in Khartoum rejects the use of the term genocide and says the numbers pertaining to the conflict are exaggerated.

      It blames rebel groups which refused to sign up to a peace deal in 2006 for the worst of the abuses and accuses the Western of blowing the conflict out of proportion.

      However, last month Sudan's government was linked directly to the atrocities in Darfur, by prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in the Hague who named a junior minister as a war crimes suspect who helped recruit, arm and bankroll janjaweed fighters.

      Ahmed Muhammed Harun, the former junior interior minister responsible for the western region of Darfur, and a janjaweed militia leader, Ali Mohammed Ali Abd-al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb, are suspected of a total of 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to Luis Moreno-Ocampo, a prosecutor.

      Although the UN team was unable to enter Sudan, it held consultations with a number of aid agencies working in the region and was briefed by officials of the African Union in Addis Ababa.

      In Ndjamena, Chad, the team spoke to members of rebel groups, including the Justice and Equality Movement and the secretariat of the National Redemption Front.

      In order to get witness reports of the suffering of the civilian population the team spoke refugees from Darfur in eastern Chad.

      Williams denied the report lacked credibility because of the team's inability to enter Darfur.

      She told Al Jazeera that Khartoum was keen to promote the idea the report lacked credibility as it opposed the investigation from the start and that such a response was "very predictable."

      The decision to send the six-person team to Sudan was taken by the human rights council after a bitter debate last December when some Arab and African member countries on the 47-state body had resisted singling out Sudan for special attention.

      The council is due to debate the mission's report on Friday.

      Comment


      • KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen killed five African Union (AU) peacekeepers in the Darfur region of western Sudan, the deadliest single attack against the force in one day since late 2004, an AU spokesman said on Monday.

        The five were guarding a water point near the Sudanese border with Chad when they came under fire on Sunday, Noureddine Mezni said. Four soldiers were killed in the shooting and the fifth died of his wounds on Monday morning.

        Three gunmen were also killed, he said.

        "We strongly condemn this cowardly attack against the very people who are working hard to achieve peace in Darfur," Mezni told Reuters. "It was totally unprovoked."

        The killings bring to 15 the number of African Union personnel killed in Darfur since the troops were deployed in late 2004. A senior Nigerian officer working with the mission has been missing since he was kidnapped in December.

        The African Union operates an overstretched 7,000-strong force in Darfur. Sudan has rejected the deployment of a larger U.N. force in the region, where violence has persisted despite a 2006 peace agreement between the government and one rebel faction.

        Asked if the assailants were identified through their corpses, Mezni said: "An investigation is under way and there will be a statement with more details."

        The attack came a day after a helicopter carrying the African Union deputy force commander came under fire on its way from western Darfur to the force's headquarters in El Fasher, the region's biggest town.

        Experts estimate that around 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have fled their homes since the conflict flared in 2003, when rebels took up arms against Khartoum, charging it with neglect. The government says only 9,000 people have died.

        Comment


        • KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Former Darfur rebels said on Sunday they were committed to a peace deal signed last year with the government despite clashes last month that killed at least 10 people and threatened the agreement.

          Mustafa Teeyrab, secretary-general of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) blamed the violence on what he called a small group of police who intended to sabotage the deal with his group, the only rebel faction to make peace with Khartoum.

          "There is no way we will stray from peace because it is a choice. There is no way that any trouble will make us turn away from peace," he told a news conference.

          Eight SLM members and two Sudanese police officers were killed in the clashes in the city of Omdurman, on the west bank of the Nile opposite Sudan's capital.

          The SLM had said the peace could collapse if the government did not meet its demands in negotiations after the fighting.

          Teeyrab said he was sure the government would abide by an agreement under which it would turn over the bodies of SLM members killed in the fighting and release members of the group who were arrested.

          The government has handed back the SLM headquarters, which security forces had surrounded after the clashes.

          "There were some policemen who do not like the peace agreement. They are trying to make problems and instigate," said Teeyrab. "A small group of policemen were responsible."

          After last year's peace deal, SLM leader Minni Arcua Minnawi became senior assistant to the president with special responsibilities for Darfur.

          But he has complained the dominant National Congress Party (NCP) lacks political will to implement peace.

          Experts estimate 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes in Darfur to miserable camps in four years of rape, killing and pillage. Washington calls the violence genocide, a term Khartoum rejects.

          Rebels and residents say nomadic Janjaweed militias backed by the government carry out widespread abuses but the government calls them outlaws and says it has no links to the militias.

          Comment


          • Lundi 18 juin 2007 -- "Le soudan confirme son approbation pour le déploiement d’une force hybride au Darfour, à condition que celle-ci soit associée à une force africaine", a déclaré hier, au forum d’El Moudjahid, le Dr Haïdar Hassan, ambassadeur du Soudan en Algérie. La crise au Darfour, qui perdure depuis 2003, semble prendre une tout autre tournure. Les pressions internationales exercées sur le Soudan se font de plus en plus nombreuses.

            Et encore une fois, l’ingérence des Etats-Unis et de son alliée la Grande-Bretagne, est au rendezvous. Une ingérence contestée par le Soudan, qui estime, selon son ambassadeur en Algérie, que "le conflit est régional, et donc censé être réglé par l’Union africaine", comme le stipule la charte de l’ONU. L’Organisation onusienne, depuis 2003, a adopté 17 résolutions sur le Darfour, indiquant toutes, que la situation au Soudan menace la sécurité. Une manière, pour "les USA et la Grande-Bretagne de régler la situation à leur guise", dira l’ambassadeur. Plutôt une façon de légitimer leur présence. Il a, d’ailleurs, exprimé que l’intérêt américain pour le Darfour est "purement économique et stratégique".

            Faut-il rappeler, par la même, les richesses de la région en matière de pétrole, gaz et cuivre ... Selon lui : "Les Etats-Unis tentent d’assurer un acheminement en matière de gaz et de pétrole” après leur déception par les pays du Golfe". Il faut savoir que les 17 résolutions ont été votées à l’unanimité ou à majorité avec abstention. Des résolutions que le Soudan a refusées en bloc. Haïdar affirme que son pays a toujours refusé la présence d’une force internationale non africaine au Darfour". Khartoum a d’ailleurs reçu une feuille de route émanant de l’ONU et de l’Union africaine, permettant de mettre fin au conflit.

            Par ailleurs, le Dr Haïdar a exprimé le refus du Soudan concernant l’initiative française, visant l’organisation d’une conférence internationale sur le Darfour le 25 juin prochain. Pour le Soudan, le temps n’est absolument pas propice à une telle conférence. D’autre part, il regrette "les positions favorables de la France envers le Soudan de par le passé". L’avènement de Sarkozy au pouvoir a changé la donne. Enfin, l’ambassadeur du soudan a dénoncé le rôle de l’Etat hébreu dans l’armement des rebelles en kalachnikov et RPG, ainsi que leur entraînement. Une aide financière de 50 millions de dollars leur a été attribuée, selon lui.

            Comment


            • HASKANITA, Sudan, September 30, 2007: Rebel forces stormed a small African Union base in northern Darfur killing 10 peacekeepers from the beleaguered mission in an unprecedented attack that threatened key peace talks set for October.

              Several others were wounded and dozens were missing in action after the attack on the base in Haskanita just after sunset on Saturday, said AU officials in Sudan.

              By late Sunday, the remaining AU peacekeepers were evacuated from the base. Sudanese government soldiers and militias, who routed the rebels out of the area, could be seen plundering goods from the burnt out camp as an AU armored vehicle lay smoldering nearby.

              "This is the heaviest loss of life and the biggest attack on the African Union mission," said AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni. "Our troops fought a defensive battle to protect the camp, but 30 vehicles eventually stormed it. ... The camp is completely destroyed."

              The announcement that new talks to solve the more than 4-year-old Darfur conflict would be held in October in Libya sparked a flurry of fighting between rebels and Sudanese government forces as each try to improve their position ahead of the conference.

              Darfur rebels have grown increasingly hostile to the AU peacekeepers saying the force is not neutral and favors the government side. Several ambushes of AU forces in the past year have been blamed on the rebels.

              Officers in the AU force said a force of about 2,000 rebels from the Sudan Liberation Army stormed the AU base in the town of Haskanita Saturday just after the sunset fast-breaking meal during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

              "There is a war going on between the rebels and the government, and the AU is crunched in the middle," said a senior AU officer who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

              The rebels did not comment on the latest attack, nor did the Sudanese military.

              About 130 AU peacekeepers from Nigeria had been stationed at the Haskanita base, but they had been grounded since June because of the insecurity in the area. More than a third of the troops were unaccounted for late Sunday, said AU officials in Sudan.

              "Some fled on foot and by car and have called us," said an AU officer in Haskanita, who declined to give his name because he is not authorized to speak to the media. "But we're very worried for some of them."

              Speaking in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the AU's top peace and security official, Said Djinnit, said 10 peacekeepers were killed, 10 wounded and about 30 AU peacekeepers remained missing after about 17 were found. It was not immediately clear why there was a discrepancy between the number of missing peacekeepers.

              Rebel commanders told The Associated Press a few days earlier that they were involved in heavy battles against government-allied forces in the Haskanita area for the past two weeks.

              "The government has massed five or six janjaweed units who are converging on us," said Abdelaziz Ushar, a commander in the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, which fights alongside the SLA, referring to the camel-riding, pro-government militias that have led the attacks on rebels.

              AU officers confirmed that that they had observed several Sudanese helicopter gunships and MiG-19 fighter jets taking off for Haskanita on Sunday from their base in southern Darfur.

              The situation had been expected to improve after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Sudan early in September and with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced new negotiations to settle the festering Darfur conflict that has killed at least 200,000 people and displaced another 2.5 million.

              Al-Bashir later announced a cease-fire during a visit to Rome, but in the ensuing weeks violence has increased, with major battles between rebels and government forces taking place throughout the arid western region, approximately the size of France.

              Saturday's attack represents the first time since the 7,000-strong AU mission was deployed in June 2004 that one of their bases has been overrun, though their men had been regularly attacked and their vehicles stolen.

              French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called the incident a "murderous and unacceptable act" and urged all parties in the conflict to show restraint.

              "France condemns with the utmost firmness the attack on the camp of the African Union's mission," Kouchner wrote in a statement Sunday. "The international community must not spare any effort so that those responsible for this act do not remain unpunished."

              The underfunded AU force has been unable to stem the fighting in the war-torn western region and will soon be merged into a much more powerful hybrid U.N. force.

              The first units of the 26,000-strong joint AU-U.N. force will be deployed in October and is expected to assume responsibility for the area on December 31.

              International diplomats also have stressed the need for all of Darfur's fragmented rebel groups to sit down with the Sudanese government during the October 27 conference in Tripoli, Libya. Only one rebel group signed the Darfur Peace Agreement in 2006, and fighting has persisted.

              One prominent rebel chief has rebuffed appeals from the U.S. and France to join negotiations in Libya, insisting Darfur must first be completely pacified and the U.N. peacekeepers deployed.

              Djinnit, the AU Peace and Security Commissioner, said the AU condemns "in the strongest terms" this "unprovoked attack" and urged for the quick deployment of the joint AU-U.N. force.

              This attack shows the need "for the early deployment of this AU-U.N. mission," Djinnit told The Associated Press.

              Comment


              • October 2, 2007 -- United Nations personnel based in Darfur have been prevented by the Sudanese government from evacuating their African Union comrades following Saturday's attack which killed at least 10 AU troops.

                According to senior humanitarian officials based in Sudan, the UN mission in Sudan (Unmis) – which has 10,000 troops in the south of the country – tried to send a rescue team to the AU's base in Haskanita, North Darfur, in the hours following the attack. But they were denied access by Khartoum and it was several hours before the Sudanese armed forces sent their own troops to Haskanita to evacuate the remaining AU soldiers.

                This is likely to cause concern among UN officials preparing for the deployment of a joint UN/AU force later this year.

                At least 10 AU soldiers died in the assault, believed to have been carried out by one of Darfur's numerous rebel groups. More than 20 were still missing last night, some 48 hours after the attack. Originally 50 had been unaccounted for.

                A force of around 1,000 heavily armed men overran the small base of 150 soldiers on Saturday evening, an hour after sunset. During the fighting, which lasted several hours, some of the AU soldiers ran out of ammunition.

                The attack prompted two of the countries contributing troops to publicly consider pulling out. The Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade, warned that he would pull his troops out if an investigation found the AU forces were not properly equipped. One of the 10 killed was Senegalese. "I am not going to send people to be slaughtered," he said.

                A spokesman for the Nigerian army also said that his country would reconsider its commitment.

                The 7,000-strong AU force patrolling Darfur has faced enormous problems since it was first deployed in 2004. It is seriously under-funded and under-resourced.

                The force is due to be replaced by a UN/AU "hybrid operation" consisting of 20,000 soldiers and 6,000 police officers. The first UN personnel are expected to arrive in Darfur before the end of the month, although it will not be until early next year that the force is likely to be at anywhere approaching full strength.

                Comment


                • October 23, 2007 -- Sudan will announce another ceasefire in its four-and-a-half year conflict with rebel groups in Darfur at the weekend, it emerged today.

                  The announcement will come at the opening of Darfur peace talks, which are to take place in the Libyan city of Sitre, the hometown of the Libyan leader, Muammar Gadafy.

                  Abdelmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamed, the Sudanese ambassador to the UN, said the move was designed to promote the success of the long-awaited meeting.

                  "On that day ... we will declare a ceasefire so that we can give the negotiators a chance to get out with an agreement on cessation of hostilities ... in the first round of the talks," Mr Mohamed said. He described the move as "a confidence-building measure".

                  There have been ceasefire agreements in Darfur before, notably in 2004 and in May last year, but they were openly flouted.

                  Earlier this month, Jan Eliasson, the UN special envoy to Darfur, called on the Sudanese government and rebel factions to begin the peace talks with a ceasefire agreement. He urged both sides to make concessions during the negotiations.

                  Yesterday, Amnesty International claimed the Sudanese government was obstructing the deployment of a 26,000-strong joint UN and African Union peacekeeping force to Darfur.

                  The force is due to take over from the overstretched African Union Mission in Sudan by the end of December.

                  "The peacekeeping deployment process continues to move slowly," Amnesty's Africa programme director, Erwin van der Borght, said. "This is unconscionable. How many more Darfuris must die before the international community responds with the urgency this crisis demands?"

                  He urged the Sudanese government to allow the force freedom of movement and to immediately provide it with land to establish bases.

                  The current conflict started in 2003, when rebels attacked government installations. In response, the Janjaweed militia attacked, burnt and looted villages in Darfur. The Sudanese government is accused of sponsoring the Janjaweed.

                  Abdel Wahid, the exiled leader of one of the main rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army, said the peace talks should only take place after deployment of the new peacekeeping force. "This is completely the wrong approach and will only prolong the suffering of the people," he told the Los Angeles Times.

                  International experts estimate that around 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes during the Darfur fighting.

                  Comment


                  • JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - A prominent Darfur rebel figure and five other smaller factions will not attend peace talks due to start this weekend in Libya, leaders said on Tuesday, casting doubt on prospects for a settlement.

                    Ahmed Abdel Shafie told reporters at a Darfur rebel meeting in south Sudan's capital Juba that African Union and United Nations mediators had not heeded rebel requests for a delay to allow them to form a united position and agree on a delegation.

                    "I was really shocked when people here are talking about unity and the United Nations started distributing invitations," he said.

                    "It's ... a matter of sabotaging the process of unity," he said, adding unity talks were going well with more factions joining but more time was needed to complete negotiations.

                    Without all rebel groups present at the talks which begin in Sirte on Saturday, hopes for a ceasefire look slim.

                    Mediators had hoped as many rebels as possible would go to negotiate a comprehensive ceasefire in Darfur as a first step towards resolving the conflict.

                    Since a peace deal signed by only one of three rebel negotiating factions last year, the insurgents have split into more than a dozen groups.

                    Around 70 rebel delegates are in Juba for talks intended to produce a unified delegation. Lounging under umbrellas in the gardens of the Home And Away cafe to the plangent tones of U.S. Country & Western music, some wore pristine suits while others sported camouflage mesh head wraps and khaki uniforms.

                    Esam al-Hajj, another SLM rebel figure in Juba, said five other factions from the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) would also not be going to the talks.

                    "Six factions ... and field commanders ... have agreed not to participate in the current negotiations," he said.

                    Added to SLM founder and popular leader Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur's earlier refusal to attend the Libya talks, this would mean no rebels representing Darfur's largest tribe, the Fur, will be negotiating with Khartoum in Sirte.

                    International experts estimate 200,000 have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in 4-1/2 years of violence, but Khartoum puts the death toll at 9,000.

                    Abdel Shafie also said African Union and United Nations mediators had taken key decisions without consulting the rebels. They objected to the choice of Libya, a country which has been directly involved in the conflict, as the venue for the talks.

                    "We have a lot of reservations actually about the mediation," he said. On Libya, he said: "The people of Darfur feel ... that the neutrality is not there."

                    He said it could take at least a month before the rebels were ready to attend peace talks.

                    Hajj said another worry was the withdrawal this month of the former southern Sudanese rebels, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), from the national coalition government.

                    "The government at the moment is not the legal government," he said.

                    The SPLM has a 28 percent share of government but suspended its ministers, saying the dominant northern National Congress Party was stalling on the 2005 north-south peace deal.

                    The standoff threatens to derail that peace deal and could also hinder the Darfur talks in Libya.

                    Comment


                    • TRIPOLI, Libya, October 25, 2007 — African and United Nations diplomats are preparing a Mediterranean seaside conference center for a crucial round of peace talks on Sudan's Darfur region, but it's still not clear whether any of the war-torn country's key rebel leaders are going to appear.

                      Western Sudan's rebel ranks are badly fractured, and a string of commanders said this week that they'd boycott the talks, which are scheduled to begin Saturday in Sirte, Libya. The African tribal rebel leaders, meeting in southern Sudan, said they wanted more time to draft a common negotiating position before they sat down with Sudan's Arab-led government and international mediators.

                      Among the eight announced no-shows are two of the most powerful rebels: Abdol Wahid al Nur, who commands the support of Darfur's dominant Fur tribe, and Khalil Ibrahim, whose forces are thought to have the most military might.

                      Underscoring Darfur's volatility, Ibrahim's Justice and Equality Movement attacked a Chinese-run oil field in the neighboring Kordofan region Tuesday and seized two workers, a Canadian and an Iraqi. On Thursday, a spokesman for the group told news agencies that attacks on oil installations in Sudan would continue unless the government met its demands, which include greater political power and a larger share of Sudan's wealth, which is largely fueled by oil.

                      Sudan's government is blamed for unleashing Arab militias against the rebels in 2003, beginning a campaign that's left at least 200,000 people dead and forced 2.5 million to flee their homes. This week the government raced to seize the high ground, naming delegates to the talks, promising to observe a cease-fire and accusing the rebels of obstructing peace efforts.

                      Despite months of preparations and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's recent declaration that this round of negotiations would be final, however, no one is betting on a breakthrough. A handful of rebel representatives are expected in Libya, but experts described them more as militia commanders than political leaders.

                      "That might actually spoil the whole process," said Hafiz Mohamed, a Sudan expert with Justice Africa, a British advocacy group. "If the senior leaders don't participate, it's not helpful. I just don't see any chance of these negotiations making any progress, at least in the beginning."

                      Rebel leaders also have objected to the location of the talks: the hometown of longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who convinced Sudanese President Omar al Bashir and African Union leaders to let him play host. Some rebels contend that Gadhafi is loyal to Bashir.

                      "The place is not suitable for us," Ibrahim al Hillo, a field commander loyal to Abdol Wahid, said by satellite phone from Darfur, where he planned to sit out the talks. "Since the start of this problem in Darfur, Libya is standing beside the Sudanese government."

                      Some observers think that the talks will adjourn within a few days and reconvene somewhere else. The lead U.N. mediator, Jan Eliasson, said this week that tribal elders and civic leaders had pledged to participate and he hoped rebel leaders would join later.

                      "We will allow plenty of time for the (rebel) movements to have consultations among themselves, because the real negotiations will start only after we have the full preparations of the parties," Eliasson said Wednesday.

                      But by demanding that the talks start on time, experts fear, diplomats may be setting up a repeat of last year, when, under pressure from then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and other high-powered mediators, only one of three rebel factions agreed to a truce with the government. The deal quickly crumbled and only deepened the rifts among the rebels, who splintered into nearly 20 groups.

                      Now it's the rebels who are blamed for most of the violence and banditry in Darfur, including a brazen raid on an African Union base last month that left 10 peacekeepers dead.

                      That attack illustrated how badly security has deteriorated in Darfur, and it led rebel leaders and human rights groups to renew calls for the rapid deployment of the much larger, U.N.-led peacekeeping force that the Security Council authorized in July.

                      The U.N. is struggling to deploy the 26,000-strong force, due in Darfur by December but unlikely to arrive for many more months. Planning has been plagued by disputes over the makeup of the force, which Sudan wants to be predominantly African. Last month, Sudanese officials rejected a proposal to include an engineering unit from Norway and infantry troops from Thailand and Uruguay.

                      Planners also say they need 18 transport helicopters and six light tactical helicopters to cover Darfur's vast, forbidding terrain, but so far no country has offered to contribute them.

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                            • January 15, 2008 -- Aid workers have been forced out of parts of West Darfur after the bombing of rebel positions by Sudanese government planes.

                              According to rebels and international sources, Antonov aircraft belonging to the government bombed two villages near the West Darfur capital, el-Geneina, on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning.

                              Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr, a field commander from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), said: "They killed three citizens, two women and one man."

                              He said the attacks targeted JEM positions involved in a recent rebel push into territory surrounding el Geneina.

                              Sudan's armed forces have not commented, but the Sunday attack was confirmed by international sources in the area, who said government planes were used.

                              JEM has claimed a series of victories over government troops around the capital in recent weeks - claims dismissed as propaganda by the state media.

                              Humanitarian workers said they had been forced to halt large parts of their operations in the area following the rise in violence involving JEM, Sudan's armed forces and bandits.

                              Adding to the turmoil, Sudan's neighbour, Chad, has been accused of launching at least two bombing raids on Chadian rebel positions close to el-Geneina in the past two weeks.

                              Chad and Sudan accuse each other of backing insurgent groups seeking to remove their respective regimes.

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