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THE WORLD

U.N. Sees Positive Actions in Sudan

A special envoy says the government has stopped militia attacks on villagers in Darfur and improved security.

August 05, 2004|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The United Nations envoy to Sudan said Wednesday that the Sudanese government had stopped militia attacks on villages in the crisis-ridden Darfur region and was making progress in improving security there.

The Sudanese foreign minister insisted that the government was not responsible for the crisis, as tens of thousands of angry pro-government protesters, including government ministers and religious leaders, marched in Khartoum, the capital, against calls for foreign intervention.

"This war was started by the rebels, not by the government. So the rebels should be held responsible," Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail told the BBC.

The African Union has committed 300 soldiers to help enforce a cease-fire. No country has backed military intervention.

The U.N. Security Council last week threatened that measures could be taken -- implying sanctions -- if Sudan did not meet a 30-day deadline for showing significant progress in disarming and prosecuting the militias, which are accused of committing atrocities against civilians.

Hundreds of Sudanese die of hunger and disease daily in camps in Darfur, in the country's west, and in neighboring Chad. More than 1 million people were displaced after the pro-government militias, known as janjaweed, attacked villages, burning, raping and killing. Human rights groups say the government is using the janjaweed to drive villagers from the land and give it to tribes loyal to Khartoum.

Aid agencies have estimated that tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, though no reliable figures are available.

Jan Pronk, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative on Darfur, said Wednesday that Sudan was not expected to fully disarm the militias by the deadline, but had to show serious progress by then.

"They have deployed many more policemen in the region and they have stopped their own military activities against villagers," Pronk told the BBC. He said security in the displaced-persons camps had improved.

The government said this week that it would double the number of police deployed in Darfur, to 12,000. But security in the region remains poor, said Francis Deng, Annan's representative on internal displacement, who visited last week.

The African Union regional bloc also reported last week that militias had continued to loot and burn villages in Darfur.

The U.S. Congress has labeled the attacks "genocide," but the Sudanese foreign minister said Wednesday that the lawmakers were not supported by the Bush administration, European Union or Security Council.

Sudanese officials reacted angrily this week to the council resolution imposing the 30-day deadline. The Foreign Ministry said the government would meet a 90-day deadline for disarming the militias, agreed to in an accord with Annan.

The conflict in Darfur began when two rebel groups rose up in February last year to demand a greater share of the nation's wealth and resources. A cease-fire was signed in April but has repeatedly been broken.

The African Union is considering increasing its planned force of 300 troops to 2,000 to protect cease-fire monitors, a spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

On Wednesday, Annan told the Security Council that the Sudanese government had improved access for humanitarian workers, supplies and equipment.

"But there is much, much more to be done on the protection side, and this is something that has been brought to the attention of the Sudanese government quite forcefully," he said.

Annan said the demonstrations in Khartoum were "not unexpected. Sometimes governments use these demonstrations to put pressure on the U.N. and to send a message to the international community."

"I think the Sudanese government has got the message," Annan said when asked about the responses from Sudan. "You also have to understand that it is a complex society, and some of the statements you hear are not necessarily for you or me, but for people on the ground."

Times staff writer Maggie Farley at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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