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Darfur atrocities must end, Powell tells Sudan

By Jeevan Vasagar

KHARTOUM (SUDAN), JULY 1. The U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said yesterday that the militias which have terrorised western Sudan ``must be broken'', and described conditions in the region as a ``humanitarian catastrophe''.

After visiting a refugee camp in northern Darfur, he said that controlling the Janjaweed militias was the only way of restoring peace.

``The Sudanese military must provide security for the camps and in the countryside so that people can return [home].''

Last night, Reuters news agency reported that it had obtained a draft copy of a U.S.-proposed U.N. resolution calling for an arms embargo and travel ban on the Janjaweed. It does not propose action against the Sudan Government, which is accused of supporting the militias, but diplomats said there was an implied threat of extended sanctions if there was no improvement.

It says the Security Council will decide within 30 days of the resolution being adopted whether the sanctions should be applied ``to any other individuals or groups responsibility for the commission of atrocities in Darfur''.

Standing beside the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, Mr. Powell said that the international community would remain ``engaged'' in Darfur. Mr. Ismail said police and military units would be sent to Darfur to ``combat the Janjaweed'', but the Government has previously spoken of incorporating the Janjaweed into its security forces.

Last week, aid workers at the Mornay refugee camp in western Darfur pointed out Janjaweed troopers on camels, wearing military fatigues and carrying long whips, patrolling in the heart of the camp. Witnesses have told human rights organisations that Government forces backed up the Janjaweed's raids on villages with aerial bombardment and ground troops.

It is suspected that the camp visited by the U.S. delegation may have been ``sanitised'' by the Sudanese Government.

Mr. Powell spoke of encouraging the refugees to return home and his spokesman, Richard Boucher, told reporters that people in the camps ``were telling us they wanted to go home''. But refugees have consistently told journalists that they have no desire to return home because of their fear of the Janjaweed.

Earlier this week, refugees in Abu Shouk told the Washington Post that Sudanese Government agents had warned them to keep quiet about their experiences when Mr. Powell visited them. The Secretary of State's visit coincides with that of the U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who arrived yesterday and is due in Darfur on Thursday.

A diverse American constituency, combining the Christian right, African-Americans and Jews, has taken an interest in the wars in Sudan. The Christian lobby and black groups have expressed concern about the civil war between Christian and animist southerners and Muslim northerners. Jewish groups have been touched by claims that the Darfur war is genocidal.

The Bush administration played a significant role in resolving the civil war in southern Sudan. In a peace deal signed last month, the Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army agreed to share oil revenues and power.

Relations between the U.S. and Sudan's Islamist dictatorship, which once harboured Osama bin Laden, have been slowly warming, but the Darfur crisis threatens to set back the thaw.

Britain has been criticised by aid agencies and human rights groups for being ``too soft'' on the Sudanese Government. An aid agency spokesman said: ``While [Britain] has been very generous with humanitarian aid, their lack of tough political action at the U.N. Security Council has contradicted this. Their diplomatic approach clearly hasn't worked. '' — Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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