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US threatens sanctions over Janjawid militias

[Sudan] Women displaced by militia attacks in Kalma camp, outside Nyala, southern Darfur.
(IRIN)

The United States government has threatened to impose sanctions on Sudan very soon, unless it disarms militia blamed for most of the atrocities in the western region of Darfur. "We are talking about days," the US ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth, told reporters in New York on Wednesday.

"What we wonder is whether the government of Sudan is just using more words, more promises, with the view that delay means more death," Danforth was quoted by international news agencies as saying. "The government of Sudan is clearly on a short leash."

Danforth spoke as the UN Security Council started considering a draft resolution proposed by the US calling on the Sudanese government to fulfil the commitment it had made publicly to end military attacks and to protect civilians in Darfur.

Calling for "sustained pressure" on the Sudanese government to find a solution to the Darfur crisis, Council members "reserved the right to take tougher action if Khartoum does not match its commitments to end human rights abuses and restrictions on aid workers", UN News reported. It said the 15-member Council would consider adopting a resolution on Sudan "in the coming days".

The current chairman, Ambassador Mihnea Ioan Motoc of Romania, said the Council wanted to bring pressure to bear on the Sudanese government "to promote progress" in Darfur, where Janjawid militias had driven more than a million people from their home villages "in a wave of ethnic displacement".

Motoc welcomed Khartoum's 3 July pledge to undertake measures, including the disarming of the Janjawid, the lifting of obstacles to the relief efforts, and bringing to justice of perpetrators of human rights abuses. He said the Council was studying the draft resolution, and further action "depended on whether the Sudanese government was meeting the targets and promises it made".

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, briefed the Council via a satellite link from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and urged it to adopt a resolution "as soon as possible to help bring an end to the deadly violence and ethnic displacement wracking" the Darfur region.

POTENTIAL HIGH TOLL

The UN Emergency Coordinator, Jan Egeland, warned of a potentially massive death toll if Khartoum did not take steps to end fighting with two rebel groups and to disarm and demobilise the mainly Arab militias.

"It is so vulnerable now that if there is an outbreak of renewed fighting, the whole programme of our humanitarian lifeline will fold immediately, and hundreds of thousands of people may die," Egeland said.

He was quoted by UN News as saying that the UN wanted a resolution with as much as concrete detail as possible, to help "ensure that armed, government-allied Janjawid militias stop attacking villages and killing and raping civilians".

On Tuesday, a UN spokeswoman, Marie Okabe, had told reporters in New York that despite the government's 3 July pledge, armed men had continued to attack humanitarian convoys in Darfur. "Military personnel, uniformed men and 'unidentified persons on camels' stopped and attacked clearly marked convoys of humanitarian workers in the west and north of Sudan's volatile Darfur region," Okabe said.

She said both the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan Liberation Army had increased the number of road checkpoints in Darfur, thereby slowing down the flow of humanitarian assistance for those affected by the conflict. In Southern Darfur, civilians were still being displaced by tribal fighting and attacks by Janjawid militias, she added.

HRW, FRANCE URGE PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS

Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a letter on Wednesday, urged the Security Council to "take immediate steps to protect civilians in Darfur and impose sanctions on Sudanese officials as well as government-backed militias".

"Disarming the Janjawid would be a crucial step in protecting civilians in Darfur, but Khartoum has flagrantly broken its earlier promises to neutralise them," Jemera Rone, the Sudan researcher for HRW's Africa division said. "The Sudanese government continues to use these militias to carry out 'ethnic cleansing'. Now the Security Council must be prepared to intervene with more muscle."

It was not immediately possible to obtain comment from the Sudanese government on the letter, but according to HRW, government forces and the Janjawid were "responsible for crimes against humanity [and] war crimes".

"Although the Sudanese government continues to deny its role in arming and supporting the militias, the evidence of hundreds of eyewitnesses and government documents testify to official responsibility for their recruitment, arming and coordination with government troops and air support," HRW said. "Sudanese government officials should also be subject to travel and arms sanctions."

HRW also called for an international commission of inquiry into the crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated in Darfur, and for active monitoring by African Union and
international human rights monitors of ceasefire violations, including attacks on civilians.

In Paris, the French Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Renaud Muselier, urged the Sudanese government to "remove" weapons from the armed militias in Darfur. "They (the Janjawid militias) must be willing to lay down their weapons, and if they are not, they will have to be removed," Muselier was quoted saying by the French News Agency.

"The Janjawid militias have had a certain freedom of action and have committed totally unacceptable violent acts and human rights violations on a massive scale. The violence must not go unpunished," he added.

MINISTERS IN DARFUR

Meanwhile, a delegation of Sudanese ministers arrived in Al-Fashir, the capital of Northern Darfur State, on Wednesday to prepare for the resettlement of those displaced by the conflict, according to international news agencies.

The delegation was led by Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ibrahim Mahmud Hamid, and included Ahmad Harun, the minister of state at the interior ministry, and Muhammad Yusuf Abdullah, the minister of state at the humanitarian affairs ministry.

Fighting between the government and rebels, which first broke out in Darfur early last year, has displaced about two million people, with up to 200,000 seeking refuge in neighbouring Chad. The UN and other aid agencies have described the conflict in Darfur as "the world's worst humanitarian crisis".


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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