Report - Sudan gutting security pledge

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

LONDON -- Sudan's government is gutting its pledge to improve security in the embattled Darfur region by barring international aid and taking militias blamed for atrocities into the police forces rather than disarming them, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

The report, "Empty Promises: Continuing Abuses in Darfur, Sudan," said Sudanese troops and government-backed militias of Arab nomads continue to attack the region's African farm communities, killing, raping and stealing with impunity.

"The continuing atrocities in Darfur prove that Khartoum's claims simply aren't credible," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director for Human Rights Watch's Africa Division.

The press office at the Sudanese Embassy in London said that it had not seen the report and that the ambassador, Hasan Abdin, was unavailable for comment.

On Tuesday, the Sudanese government signed an agreement with the United Nations giving it 30 days to establish safe havens for African farmers under attack in Darfur.

The United Nations has described the 18-month-old conflict in the sprawling, arid region of Darfur as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The region's nomadic Arab tribes have long been at odds with their African farming neighbors over dwindling resources. The U.S. Agency for International Development has warned that the death toll could surge to 350,000 or more if aid doesn't reach some 2 million people soon.

A U.N. Security Council resolution on July 30 demanded that Sudan's government improve security, human rights and humanitarian assistance in Darfur and speed up a political resolution of the conflict. It also imposed a deadline of Aug. 30 for the disarmament of the Janjaweed.

However, the Human Rights Watch report said the Sudanese government appears to be backtracking on that timeline and also is beginning to absorb Janjaweed fighters into the police and other security forces.

"Incorporating the Janjaweed militias into the security services and then deploying them to protect civilian 'safe areas' is the height of absurdity," Takirambudde said. "The Sudanese government needs to bring war criminals to justice, not recruit them into positions of responsibility."

The report said claims by Sudan's government that it is cracking down through trials of Janjaweed militiamen were undercut by growing reports that most of those convicted are petty criminals.

Human Rights Watch said an increased international presence on the ground is urgently needed to improve the protection of civilians, assess the government's actions and stabilize the region.

It backed a proposal by the African Union to increase its small monitoring force from 300 to more than 2,000. The Sudanese government rejected the plan Sunday.

"Key countries and regional groups, such as the African Union and the Arab League, should persuade Khartoum that it needs to accept international support to protect civilians and stabilize the region," Takirambudde said.

Human Rights Watch said the United Nations and the European Union should provide the logistical and financial support to expand the African Union force.

An EU military-civilian team, which visited Darfur last week, said Monday that atrocities were still being committed on a large scale.

The U.S. Congress and some humanitarian groups have accused the Sudanese government of genocide. The Bush administration has held off on making a judgment, and the European Union said such a decision is up to U.N. experts.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to debate sanctions for Sudan at the end of the month.

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