- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

From combined dispatches

A German newspaper has reported that Syrian special forces used chemical weapons in June to kill dozens of people in Darfur, Sudan.

The attack came after an arrangement between Syria and the Sudanese government, the Die Welt newspaper said in its editions Wednesday, citing Western intelligence sources as well as eyewitness accounts quoted in the Arab press.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher cast doubt on the newspaper report, saying he had no information on such an attack and that it would have been unlikely for an attack of this type to have taken place without the United States knowing about it.

Die Welt said Syrian officers met with Sudanese army authorities in a Khartoum, Sudan, suburb in May to discuss military interaction. The Syrian officers proposed cooperating on chemical weapons development.

The meeting led to proposals that Syria should test its chemical capabilities on members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, but those plans were scrapped because Sudan had entered peace negotiations with the rebel group.

A second plan — the one that eventually was carried out — called for testing the weapons on black African residents of the war-torn Darfur region.

At least five planes from the civil Syrian Arab Airlines flew Syrian chemical weapons specialists into Sudan to carry out the attack.

Attempts to reach diplomats at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.

This is not the first report of chemical weapons use in Sudan.

The Washington Times reported last month that Sudan’s air force sprayed a village in the Darfur region with a powder that killed two persons and dozens of cattle.

A Sudanese air force Antonov plane in May dropped several rectangular plastic sacks containing a white, flourlike powder on a wadi — a dry riverbed — in the lower part of the village, eyewitnesses told The Times.

The Times report said a jet fighter on the same day dropped a bomb on the other side of the village that produced a poisonous smoke that affected about 50 villagers.

The U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least 50,000 persons have died since the start of the conflict between the government and rebel groups in Western Sudan 19 months ago.

Rebels, with their base among the region’s ethnic African farmers, are fighting the Arab-dominated government and government-backed militias.

The United States accuses the Sudanese government of genocide.

The WHO says 6,000 to 10,000 people are dying monthly from disease and violence in the 129 refugee camps scattered across Darfur, a region roughly the size of France and home to about 6 million people.

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