Arab militiamen who have brought terror to western Sudan are being trained at secret camps to launch a campaign of guerrilla warfare if British troops or other foreign “infidels” are deployed on a peacekeeping operation.
The military instruction from Sudanese army officers is part of Khartoum’s clandestine efforts to integrate the Janjaweed militia into paramilitary security forces in Darfur.
Camel-riding fighters have boasted to local people that they are preparing to fight any “invaders” sent to restore order to a region where an estimated 50,000 black Africans have been killed and more than one million forced from their homes in a year-long frenzy of ethnic cleansing.
“They say that they will fight the infidels just as the mujahideen in Iraq are doing. Iraq is their inspiration,” said a resident of Kass, a south Darfur market town surrounded by dozens of abandoned and burnt “ghost” villages after a year of Janjaweed attacks.
The militia have kept a lower profile in recent days as international attention focused on Darfur, but local African tribesmen insist that many of the Arab herders leading camel trains across the scrub and heading into Nyala and Kass for the weekly livestock markets took part in the rampages.
The existence of the Janjaweed training camps in remote corners of Darfur was confirmed to The Telegraph by a prominent politician from his own contacts within the regime. Jaffer Monro is an MP for the ruling National Congress in the one-party state, but he took the risk of breaking ranks with the government to condemn events in his home province.
“The Janjaweed are being given proper military training ready for a further escalation in the conflict,” said Mr Monro, a member of the parliament’s human rights committee, who comes from the Fur tribe. “They are being trained by the government authorities in case foreign troops are sent here.”
Two senior figures from the United Nations peacekeeping operation visited the region last week to assess options as the August 30 Security Council deadline for Khartoum to rein in the Janjaweed or face sanctions approaches.
Tony Blair has said that Britain would consider sending troops to Darfur as part of an international mission to restore security. Gen Sir Mike Jackson, the chief of general staff, indicated that up to 5,000 British troops could be made available.
Khartoum has flatly rejected calls for international intervention, particularly by Western countries, and has repeatedly claimed through the state media that Britain is leading efforts to turn Sudan into “another Iraq”.
President Omar al-Bashir, who declared “Long live the mujahideen” at a meeting of Janjaweed fighters in Nyala in May, intensified the anti-British rhetoric in a speech on Thursday. “There is an agenda to seek petrol and gold in the region,” he said, singling out Britain as the old colonial power for particular opprobrium.
Mohamed Yacoub, a prominent Arab sheikh in south Darfur who was named in local government documents leaked to Human Rights Watch as an important militia chief, delivered his own warning to British forces in an interview with this newspaper last week.
“Our friendship with the British is very old, but we do not need their interference,” said Mr Yacoub, 62, the supreme leader of the Tarjum tribe who was dressed in traditional white robes and skullcap when we met in his garden in Nyala. “This is our land and we would fight British troops if they came here. Please pass that message to Mr Blair.”
He denied that there were any Arab militia. He said that the Janjaweed were bandits taking advantage of the conflict, but he added that some Arab patriots had sided with government forces to fight last year’s rebellion.
It would not be hard to find volunteers to fight Western forces in a country that has already proved a fertile recruiting ground for the al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, who was based in Sudan before international pressure forced Khartoum to expel him. Thousands of Sudanese went though his training camps in Afghanistan, and some are fighting with the resistance in Iraq.
Western aid and UN workers are split over whether the region, where the black African victims are also Muslim, would benefit from an international force. “Sending Western troops would be a disaster. It would be guaranteed to set off some Islamic hotheads,” said one European aid official.
The first of a 300-strong African Union protection force left the Rwandan capital of Kigali yesterday for Darfur. How effective these numbers will be in such a large geographical area is questionable.
The revelation that the Janjaweed, previously regarded as ill-trained Arab nomad fighters set loose on the majority Darfur population by the government, are now receiving formal military instruction represents an alarming new development. There are said to be two camps in the hills near Kass, but the poor security situation meant that The Telegraph was unable to confirm the locations last week. Across Darfur, Janjaweed have been put into the uniforms of the paramilitary Public Defence Force (PDF) and police in recent weeks as the Arab-dominated authorities attempt to disguise the role of the militia that they created but are now struggling to control.
In Kass, where refugees have doubled the town’s usual population of 40,000, survivors of Janjaweed attacks glanced away nervously last week as men they said they recognised as militia fighters patrolled the market in military fatigues.
At the PDF bureau in the market, officers declined to be interviewed last week, although one acknowledged that the force contained some “reformed” Janjaweed.
The unit’s logo is a galloping black stallion surrounded with the words: “To Fight and Conquer. Death in the name of Allah”. Its leader in Kass, Ismail Dawena, is known as the chief of the “horsemen”, a phrase used by Khartoum to describe the militia known to the rest of the world as the Janjaweed.
A national security official sent to the town from Khartoum 10 days ago insisted that there were no Janjaweed training camps. “There are no camps because the only Janjaweed are outlaws,” said the official, who gave his name only as Tom.
“There are no Janjaweed in uniform; that is all propaganda. The PDF comprises all the peoples of Sudan.
“Most of the villagers did not know why they fled their homes, they were just told that it was dangerous. The security situation here is fine and it is safe for people to return home.”
In one of the camps in Kass, Sheikh Adam Mohamed Adam told a very different story. “How can they say it is safe for us to go home when what they call ‘security’ is being provided by the same people who terrorised us?” he asked. “Only foreign troops can protect us.”