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UN: Security Council To Hear Details On Sudan Amid Mounting Alarm

The UN Security Council hears a report today from a top humanitarian official about the escalating crisis in the western Sudanese region of Darfur. The meeting takes place at a time of mounting calls for Sudan's government to act against rampaging militias accused of widespread ethnic cleansing. A leading human rights watchdog today releases a report accusing the government of orchestrating the campaign and warns the situation could become far worse.

United Nations, 7 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The director of the UN's food agency will brief the UN Security Council on his recent visit to western Sudan, which he says is suffering one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

The briefing by World Food Program Director James Morris is expected to draw attention to the campaign by Arab militias, known as Janjawid, to force hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. But it is not clear whether UN officials will implicate Sudan's government in the campaign.

The acting UN human rights commissioner, Bertrand Ramcharan, will also brief the Security Council today on the findings of a UN mission which returned from Darfur this week.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, has released a report alleging the Arab-dominated government of Sudan and the Janjawid have engaged in a deliberate campaign to oust black African tribes from the vast Darfur region.

Rights monitors are concerned that a preoccupation with events in Iraq is diverting attention from Sudan.
A Human Rights Watch expert, Leslie Lefkow, told RFE/RL that the group has collected testimony from dozens of eyewitnesses who say the government was directly involved in the attacks. She said in interviews conducted throughout the region in the past three months, the fleeing civilians described air attacks followed by assaults from ground forces including both government troops and Janjawid fighters. The attacks are said to be in reprisal for actions of antigovernment fighters recruited from Darfur tribes.

Human Rights Watch wants the Security Council to call on Sudan to dismantle the militias, remove them from Darfur, and allow the region to be occupied again. "At this point, the situation is so urgent that if there isn't a real response in the coming weeks, then we face an even bigger catastrophe,” Lefkow said. “It's bad enough already and it's not going to go away without sustained and intense pressure from the international community. It's not going to change. The ethnic cleansing that is taking place is not going to be reversed."

More than 100,000 Sudanese have fled to neighboring Chad and an estimated 1 million more are displaced within the country. UN officials are worried that the onset of the rainy season at the end of this month will make it difficult to reach the displaced. The U.S. Agency for International Development has called for immediate humanitarian access and warned at least 100,000 civilians could die from lack of food and from disease within the next 12 months.

Sudanese officials acknowledge there is a humanitarian crisis but reject charges the government has encouraged ethnic cleansing. The U.S. attempt to block Sudan's membership on the UN Human Rights Commission this week was met by harsh Sudanese criticism of U.S. actions in Iraq.

Just before the vote renewing Sudan's commission membership, its deputy UN ambassador, Omar Bashir Mohamed Manis, accused the United States of hypocrisy. "The U.S. delegation, while shedding crocodile tears over the situation in Darfur -- which we believe requires concerted support to the ongoing efforts deployed by my government -- this delegation is turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the American forces to the innocent civilian population in Iraq," he said.

Rights monitors are concerned that a preoccupation with events in Iraq is diverting attention from Sudan. African states last month pushed for a weakened resolution on Darfur in the UN Human Rights Commission and promoted Sudan for renewed membership on the commission, which was granted this week by the UN's Economic and Social Council.

Human rights monitors accuse African governments of accommodating the Sudanese regime. The director of research at U.S.-based Freedom House, Arch Puddington, told RFE/RL it was an "atrocity" for the UN council to vote Sudan onto the rights commission. But he believes international scrutiny will eventually focus on the events in Darfur.

"I think [Sudan] has deflected criticism temporarily but this is a huge issue. You've got these refugees in neighboring countries and you also have a UN investigation of Darfur going on. The Sudanese cannot forever postpone a reckoning on this question," Puddington said.

The UN's human rights mission to Darfur that just concluded was led by Bacre Waly Ndiaye, a Senegalese lawyer with long experience in African conflicts. Ndiaye more than 10 years ago served as the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions and issued a report warning of genocide in Rwanda. UN officials this spring have repeatedly expressed shame and remorse over their inaction in the face of the Rwanda genocide of 1994.