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Sudan Needs Time, Arab League Says

In an emergency session on Darfur, the group calls a U.N. demand for action against militias in 30 days a guideline rather than a deadline.

August 09, 2004|From Associated Press

CAIRO — Arab countries said Sunday that Sudan's government needs more time to end the crisis in its Darfur region, where state-backed ethnic Arab militias are accused of killing thousands of black villagers.

The 22-member Arab League, which held an emergency meeting Sunday on Darfur, also rejected "threats of military intervention in the region or imposing any sanctions on Sudan."

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo offered to host peace talks to resolve the humanitarian crisis spawned by the fighting.

Obasanjo invited the Sudanese government and rebel negotiators to hold talks in Nigeria starting Aug. 23, a spokesman for the African Union said. Previous talks fell apart July 17 after rebels walked out, saying the Sudanese government had ignored existing peace agreements.

The conflict in Darfur began in February 2003, when government-backed militias known as janjaweed began to suppress an uprising by rebel groups who wanted a greater share of the nation's oil wealth. The janjaweed have driven villagers from their land and handed it to tribes loyal to Khartoum, the capital, exploiting a long territorial rivalry between Arab herdsmen and predominantly black farmers.

At least 30,000 people have died and more than 1 million have been displaced in a brutal and systematic campaign that the United Nations has called "ethnic cleansing" and the U.S. Congress has branded genocide.

A July 30 U.N. Security Council resolution threatened economic and diplomatic action against Sudan if it didn't act within 30 days to rein in the militias. But Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, said Sunday that the resolution is "a developing process, not a deadline."

He rejected accusations that the government is guilty of genocide, adding that the point was agreed upon by the African Union, Arab League and United Nations.

Sudan denies supporting the janjaweed and was hoping Arab nations at Sunday's gathering would back it against international pressure. The Arab League decided to provide the nation financial, technical and logistical support.

The United Nations and Sudan signed an agreement last week requiring the Arab-dominated Khartoum government to create safe areas in Darfur within 30 days so civilians can search for food and water and work their land without fear of attack.

The Plan of Action for Darfur would halt all military operations by government forces, militias and rebel groups in the safe areas.

Under the agreement, a copy of which was obtained by Associated Press on Sunday, the government will approach "militias over whom it has influence and instruct them to cease their activities forthwith and lay down their weapons."

Moussa said Arab countries in North Africa are willing to participate in a peacekeeping force in western Sudan. The African Union plans to dispatch 1,600 to 1,800 soldiers to protect an unarmed, 150-member monitoring mission.

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