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U.N. to Launch Inquiry on Sudan Violence

An international panel will investigate whether attacks and obstruction of Darfur aid constitute genocide. Resolution calls for more troops.

September 19, 2004|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution Saturday establishing an international inquiry to determine whether systematic attacks on black villagers in Sudan constitute genocide.

The measure also calls for increasing the number of African Union troops in Sudan to monitor the government's efforts to halt militia violence, and threatens to consider oil sanctions if Khartoum does not cooperate.

The resolution, which passed with 11 votes in favor and four abstentions, is the council's second attempt to increase pressure on Sudan to rein in pro-government militias, whom victims call janjaweed.

On July 30, the council passed a first resolution warning Sudan to take action, but since then, Khartoum has made little progress in quelling the violence and disarming the fighters.

Saturday's resolution acknowledged improvements in access for aid workers and a decrease in government army attacks on its own population, but demanded that Khartoum do much more, much faster.

The U.N. estimates that 50,000 people have died and 1.2 million have been displaced as Sudanese troops and Arab militias attacked village after village in the western region of Darfur since a rebellion erupted there in 2003.

Khartoum denies backing the militias, but its obstruction of aid workers has caused the situation to cascade into what the U.N. has called "the world's worst humanitarian crisis."

U.S. Ambassador John C. Danforth told the council Saturday that the disaster in Darfur was uniquely grave because it was entirely man-made.

"It was fabricated by a government as an overreaction to a rebellion; a government intent on revenge, intent on persecution, intent on breaking the spirit of an entire people," he said, cataloging government helicopter attacks, rapes and killings that have occurred since the July 30 resolution.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell declared Sept. 9 that the situation in Sudan was indeed genocide after a State Department team interviewed more than 1,100 refugees in Chad. The team heard repeated testimony about intentional acts by mostly Arab militias to drive black farmers off their land.

Approval of the resolution Saturday came after a week of intensive negotiations and prodding by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said it would be "inconceivable" for the council not to respond to such a dire situation.

Annan told diplomats Saturday that within 10 days, he would select an independent international commission to investigate whether the militias' actions and the government's obstruction of aid constitute genocide.

The key to improving the situation, diplomats say, is increasing the number of African Union troops in Sudan from 300 to perhaps 3,000, plus police, in order to protect civilians and monitor militias.

The African Union has been holding peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria, between the Sudanese government and the rebel groups who rose up against it in February 2003. The negotiations broke down Wednesday but are to resume next month.

"It is extremely important to recognize the role of the African Union," Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali said. "The real action is not here in New York. It is in Abuja with the African Union, and on the ground in Darfur."

Sudanese Ambassador Elfatih Mohammed Ahmed Erwa told the Security Council on Saturday that his government welcomed the African Union presence in Darfur, and was "fully prepared to cooperate." But he called the resolution "politically motivated" by the U.S. presidential elections.

After the vote, Erwa said that Sudan was "not scared of an inquiry," but feared that the United States might distort the outcome.

"We have no problem with" an inquiry, Erwa said. "We have a problem with interpretation and twisting the facts."

Saturday's vote was delayed for last-minute negotiations between the U.S. and China, which had threatened a veto. The resolution says the council may consider sanctions on Sudan's petroleum sector; China imports oil from Sudan.

After being assured that the council would have to approve any sanctions, China abstained, along with Pakistan, Russia and Algeria.

"The resolution's main objective should be to help the African Union," Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said after the vote. "We do not want to throw the baby away with the bathwater. That's why we did not block the resolution."

The four abstaining countries voiced concerns that a hard-line approach could disrupt the momentum of peace talks with the rebels along with the government's recent progress.

But aid groups and U.S. officials say that despite recent improvements in access for relief workers, there seems to have been backsliding since the introduction of the second resolution 10 days ago.

"We have a pile of visas for USAID workers that have been sitting for 10 days now at [Sudan's] mission at the U.N.," USAID deputy assistant administrator Bill Garvelink said Saturday. There also have been recent reports of attacks on aid workers and new restrictions on communications.

Garvelink said that if relief workers could not get to parts of Darfur now considered too dangerous to enter, there would be a sudden surge in deaths from starvation and disease in October or November, because displaced people are barely surviving now.

"Soon, it will start to get colder, and it will hit the tipping point," he said. "The death rates will skyrocket, and there's nothing you can do about it. You can rush food in that day, and their bodies won't be able to handle it."

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