GENEINA, Sudan -- Armed militia surged into a western border area where some Darfur refugees attempted to return to their raided village, UN security officials said yesterday, raising further concern about how quickly 1.4 million displaced Sudanese could return home safely.
UN authorities were sending a team to the area to assess the risks to refugees, said Sabir Mughal, a West Darfur UN refugee security officer.
Sudanese authorities told Ruud Lubbers, UN high commissioner for refugees, that they were trying to bring calm to 19 months of bloodletting in Darfur. The region's non-Arab African villagers and international leaders attribute the crisis, which the United States has labeled genocide, largely to government-backed Arab militias called Janjaweed.
Some of the nearly 200,000 refugees who fled into neighboring Chad were starting to return home, Social Affairs Minister Habib Mouktoun told Lubbers, ''and we are welcoming them."
But the movement of armed militia, reported by UN refugee security authorities near the border village of Abu Surug, could jeopardize efforts to convince refugees they can safely go home. Mughal said a few refugees from Chad returned to the Abu Surug area recently, and the still-unidentified militia moved in after them.
Sudan, Africa's largest country, is under review by the UN Security Council and faces possible sanctions on its oil industry over what the United States and the European Parliament say is genocide by the government and Janjaweed in Darfur.
Violence broke out when two non-Arab Darfur rebel movements took up arms in February 2003 against government installations, saying they wanted a bigger share of power and Sudan's resources. More than 50,000 people have been killed in what the United Nations says is the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
In the capital, Khartoum, the Interior Ministry said a police unit guarding Kulma camp in South Darfur Province for the displaced was attacked yesterday morning. Two policemen were killed, and several others were wounded, it said.
Also, West Darfur's governor, Suleiman Abdullah Adam, linked one of the rebel movements, the Justice and Equality Movement, to what the government says was a foiled coup plot Friday in Khartoum. The rebel movement, which is the armed wing of the opposition group Popular Congress Party, ''is trying to bring international intervention and overthrow the government," Adam said after a weekend of stepped-up military patrols in Khartoum.
At Sudan's western border, the UN report of militia movement threatened to be a first test of whether Darfur was safe for non-Arab African villagers.
Lubbers said he saw improvement, but when asked whether he believed it was safe for refugees to go home, he said it was not. ''We are in a process of reducing violence," Lubbers said.
Refugees said they were often beaten, robbed, or raped when they left the camp. Nosra Suliman Hakkar, 40, a mother of seven whose husband disappeared when militia attacked her village nine months ago, said, ''If we leave the camp, we die."