Sudan

Sudan: Militia kill 21 in West Darfur-residents, rebels

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Armed militias backed by Sudan's government killed 21 people in an attack on a village in West Darfur, anti-Khartoum Sudanese rebels said on Sunday.

Rebels blamed militias they said were headed by an army officer called al-Hadi Adam Hamid, but an army spokesman said it was unclear who had attacked Sureif Judad, a village about 17 kilometres northwest of the state capital el-Geneina.

"They killed 21 civilians including old men and women and children and wounded four people," said Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) commander Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr.

One el-Geneina resident, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, told Reuters that they personally knew three of the dead, who were all from the same family.

"I heard they burned 90 houses," said the source, who learnt of the attack through friends from the village.

The army said no houses had been burnt but they understood that around 20 people had been killed in the attack.

"It's not clear who the unknown attackers were," an army spokesman told Reuters. "It could be the rebels who attacked."

JEM's Ashr said the attack took place on Jan. 22 but the army said it was about three days ago.

International experts estimate some 200,000 have died and 2.5 million driven from their homes in almost five years of fighting in Darfur. The Khartoum authorities put the death toll at 9,000 and say the West exaggerates the conflict.

Large-scale atrocities have largely ceased in recent months but fighting between JEM and the government has continued in the remote and inaccessible West Darfur state. JEM says the government is bombing daily in their areas.

"This is part of a wider plan to begin attacking villages again," Ashr told Reuters from the region. Khartoum denies links to militias, known as Janjaweed, who are accused of war crimes in Sudan's vast west.

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for a junior cabinet minister and an allied militia leader accused of conspiring in war crimes. Khartoum dismisses the charges and refuses to hand them over.

Ashr said the 3,000 residents of Sureif Judad had fled their village to the surrounding areas. The villagers were from the non-Arab Erenga tribe, he added.

Independent reports are difficult to come by from the region, which is too insecure for most international aid workers and even U.N.-African Union peacekeepers work in.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)

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