Chad + 1 more

Chadian rebels attack, rape Darfuris--residents

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* Activists say UN probe needed, may be war crimes

* Recent rapprochement in sensitive Chad-Sudan ties

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Chadian rebels are raping, beating and looting villagers in western Sudan's North Darfur region, residents said on Monday.

Rights activists said the attacks might be war crimes and urged the Sudanese government and the United Nations to investigate them.

Chadian-Sudanese relations are key to the conflict in Darfur, and the two countries have accused each other of supporting rebels fighting for more power.

A rapprochement between the two neighbours last month included an agreement to form a joint border patrol force and to move rebel forces away from the long and porous frontier.

"We are asking the Khartoum government ... to immediately move these forces out of our areas ... and to compensate the victims of these crimes," a member of the youth movement from the al-Sayah area, Adam Shiekat, told Reuters by telephone.

Shiekat, who used a nickname for fear of arrest, said two teachers from the school in al-Sayah had been arrested by security forces and accused of disseminating information about the attacks.

The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies said those committing the crimes should be held accountable. "These acts may constitute war crimes and (we) call on the government of Sudan and relevant UN representatives to initiate a full and thorough investigation," it said in a statement.

A source in the aid community in Khartoum confirmed there had been numerous attacks and said that since the Chadians moved to the area on Dec. 3, at least 20 women had been raped, a woman eight months pregnant had died from her injuries and four other people had been killed.

"These people are very, very poor and now they are suffering twice -- once during the Darfur war and now again," the source said, adding that the Chadians were stealing the precious little water, food and firewood in the area.

Sudan expelled 13 aid agencies last year, and those left are too scared to speak openly.

Violence in Darfur erupted in early 2003, when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government and Khartoum responded by mobilising militia to quell the uprising. The United Nations estimates the ensuing conflict claimed 300,000 lives and drove 2 million people from their homes.

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant last year for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes in Darfur, but Khartoum refused to recognise the court.

During the conflict between government militias and rebels, the Sudanese and Chadian governments accused each other of backing the other side's rebels, and groups of bandits have harassed and attacked local people and foreign peacekeepers.

Chad has accused Sudan of using Chadian rebels to quell the revolt in Darfur in return for helping them in their drive to overthrow Chadian President Idriss Deby.

U.N.-African Union peacekeepers (UNAMID) said they had observed the arrival of the Chadians in the area on Dec. 3, but said Khartoum bore ultimate responsibility for the forces.

"Serious concerns regarding these opposition forces have been reported by observers in this region since early December 2009," said Chris Cycmanick, a UNAMID spokesman.

Deby and his predecessor Hissene Habre were both installed by rebellions launched from Darfur. Sudan says the Sudenese rebels in Darfur are armed by and have bases in Chad. (Editing by Tim Pearce)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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