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Report on Darfur Deaths Is Challenged

Sudanese minister says the health situation is 'normal' after agency released estimates that up to 10,000 people were dying monthly.

September 15, 2004|From Associated Press

KHARTOUM, Sudan — A Sudanese government minister denied new U.N. estimates that as many as 10,000 displaced people were dying from disease and violence each month in Darfur, saying Tuesday that the health situation in the region was "normal."

The U.N. World Health Organization released a survey Monday saying that between 6,000 and 10,000 people who had fled their homes in Darfur were dying every month. International aid agencies estimate that at least 30,000 have died in the 19-month conflict, but the WHO put the figure at about 50,000.

"I do not think this assessment is correct," said Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ibrahim Hamid. He was speaking to reporters after meeting the visiting head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew S. Natsios.

Hamid did not offer his own estimates of the death toll but insisted: "The death rate is decreasing.... We have standards by which we measure the health situation ... and it is normal."

About 1.2 million people have fled their villages to escape the violence in Darfur, where Arab militias are accused of carrying out atrocities against black Sudanese civilians amid fighting with rebels. The government has said that it does not back the Arab militias, and it blames the two rebel groups.

The displaced are camped in 129 settlements across an area the size of France. More than 200,000 have fled to neighboring Chad.

Darfur rebels warned Tuesday that peace talks with the government was about to collapse and called a meeting with the negotiations' host, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, in a last-ditch effort to salvage them.

The 3-week-old talks have been stalemated for days over a raft of issues -- particularly on how to return security to Darfur.

Sudan's government is under increasing international pressure to do more to address what the U.N. has called the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

European Union foreign ministers urged the United Nations on Monday to "immediately investigate" whether atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region constitute genocide, as Washington contends.

The 25 EU foreign ministers said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan should open a special inquiry "as soon as possible" into all violations of human rights in Darfur," specifically "acts of genocide."

They said the investigation was needed to confirm the U.S. charge of genocide, made last week by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who called for the consideration of United Nations sanctions against Sudan.

The U.N. Security Council was expected to pass a resolution on Darfur later this week.

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