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Sudan warns Darfur peacekeepers
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Feb 2, 2009 - 5:39:16 AM

Sudan warns Darfur peacekeepers

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Darfur peacekeeper
The Darfur peacekeeping force remains badly under-strength

Sudan's government has urged peacekeepers to leave the rebel-held Darfur town of Muhajiriya, amid fears that an attack is imminent.

The town was seized by rebel forces in January, sparking fierce fighting, including air strikes.

A spokeswoman for the joint UN-African Union peacekeepers said they did not want to leave but discussions were still continuing.

The six-year conflict has left at least two million people homeless. undefined undefined

"We are not ordering them around, we are asking them," said Akuei Bona Malwal, Sudan's ambassador to the African Union.

"It's sort of like informing them: 'Something will be happening here,'" the AP news agency reports him as saying.


Tahir al-Feki, from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, told Reuters news agency that four columns of army troops, including tanks, were approaching the town.

"We think they are planning a large attack," he said.

"Our main concern is for the civilians because they will bear the brunt of any fighting. They [government forces] are bringing tanks so they must be preparing to pound the town." undefined undefined

Reed Brody, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, told AP the peacekeeping force, known as Unamid, should not leave the town if that would expose civilians to attack.

Unamid spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero said the peacekeepers did not want to leave.

"Our mandate is to provide protection to civilians and we would like to continue doing that."

The Unamid force remains at only about half of its planned 26,000 strength, a year after the UN took joint control of the mission.

The recent fighting around Muhajiriya has marked an escalation in the ongoing Darfur conflict, almost six years after it began.

It comes as the International Criminal Court mulls whether to issue an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir on charges of orchestrating war crimes in Darfur.

The UN says up to 300,000 people in Darfur have died and more than 2.2 million have been displaced since the uprising against Sudan's Arab-dominated government started in February 2003.

Khartoum says just 10,000 have died. It says the scale of the suffering has been exaggerated for political reasons.

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