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The insider's guide to Darfur

By Ravi Agrawal for CNN
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(CNN) The African Union has announced it will leave its 7,000 troops in the Darfur region until at least the end of the year. Here's all you need to know about the crisis in western Sudan.

How did the conflict start?

Since early 2003, Sudanese government forces and ethnic militia called "Janjaweed" have been engaged in an armed conflict with rebel groups called the Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). As part of its operations against the rebels, government and militia forces have been accused of waging a systematic campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against the civilian population who are members of the same ethnic groups as the rebels. The rebels say the government is oppressing black Africans in favor of Arabs. The groups opposed to a May peace deal, signed by the SLA/SLM with the government, have now merged into the National Redemption Front led by former Darfur governor Ahmed Diraige.

So this is a fairly new problem?

Not really, more an escalation of long-standing tensions in the region. There are long-standing disagreements in Darfur -- literally, home of the "Fur" in Arabic -- over land and grazing rights between the mostly nomadic Arabs, and farmers from the Fur, Massaleet and Zagawa communities. Nor is civil war anything new in Sudan, where a separate regional conflict in the south of the country raged on and off for 50 years prior to a peace deal in January 2005.

What is the government doing?

The government in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, admits mobilizing "self-defense militias" to counter rebel attacks but denies any links to the Janjaweed, who President Omar al-Bashir has called "thieves and gangsters." Refugees from Darfur say that following air raids by government aircraft, the Janjaweed ride into villages on horses and camels, slaughtering men, raping women and stealing whatever they can find. Many women report being abducted by the Janjaweed and held as sex slaves. After strong international pressure and the threat of sanctions, the government promised to disarm the militiamen. But so far there is little evidence this has happened.

How many people have died?

A report published in the reputable scientific journal "Science" this month concluded that the "number of deaths for this conflict in Greater Darfur is higher than 200,000 individuals, and it is possible that the death toll is much higher." Millions of refugees have also been forced to flee their homes. Human rights groups, the U.S. Congress and the former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell have all said genocide has taken place. But a U.N. investigation team sent to Sudan said that, while war crimes had been committed, there had been no intent to commit genocide.

What is the U.N. doing in Sudan?

The U.N. already has a peacekeeping mandate for southern Sudan, where the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended the civil war between the Sudanese government and southern-based rebels known as the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). The U.N. Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is authorized to deploy 10,000 troops and a small police force to monitor and implement this north-south agreement. As of June this year, UNMIS deployed 10,224 uniformed personnel from more than 60 countries to Khartoum, southern Sudan and selected areas between. On August 31 the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1706 authorizing the deployment of U.N. peacekeeping forces to Darfur. The resolution called for a transition of logistics, communication and staff to U.N. forces to begin October 1 with the bulk of U.N. troops due in place by January 2007. Sudan's consent, however, has not been forthcoming. Last month al-Bashir stated he would confront a U.N. force in Darfur "as Hezbollah beat Israeli forces."

Why is the Sudanese government refusing to accept a U.N. force?

The Sudanese government says a U.N. force will violate its sovereignty and claims the deployment of western troops would turn Sudan into "another Iraq." It has accused the U.S. and UK of having a "hidden agenda" and colonial aspirations.

Millions of Darfur refugees have been forced to flee their homes.

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