UN urged to quell ethnic attacks in Sudan

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The leaders of the world's most powerful nations appealed to the United Nations yesterday to help prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan, where ethnic violence in the western Darfur region has displaced more than a million people.

The leaders of the world's most powerful nations appealed to the United Nations yesterday to help prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan, where ethnic violence in the western Darfur region has displaced more than a million people.

A joint statement by the Group of Eight (G8) at its annual summit voiced concern about reports that Arab militias have started an ethnic cleansing campaign against black Africans in Darfur. "There are continuing reports of gross violations of human rights, many with an ethnic dimension," the declaration said. "We look to the United Nations to lead the international effort to avert a major disaster and will work together to achieve this end." The statement did not mention specific action the G8 would take.

Thousands of people have been killed over 15 months of conflict in Darfur. International aid groups suspect the Sudanese government is backing nomadic militiamen who have been sweeping through villages and committing massacres.

"We are on the verge of a grave humanitarian crisis, and it's time to sound the alarm," a French official said.

The statement by the G8 - France, Italy, Canada, Britain, Japan, Germany, Russia and the United States - urged the Sudanese government to disarm the militias and other groups behind "massive human rights violations in Darfur".

It goes on: "We call on the conflict parties to address the roots of the Darfur conflict and to seek a political solution."

Aid workers have been trying to save hundreds of thousands of displaced people from perishing in Darfur before heavy rains render relief work impossible. The rains are expected within two weeks.

The G8 leaders, who were wrapping up their gathering yesterday on Sea Island, Georgia, pledged to provide "humanitarian aid to those in need" in Sudan.

The leaders met the heads of six African nations - Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Algeria - to discuss ways to alleviate poverty, combat Aids and co-operate on peacekeeping.

The G8 said it welcomed a power-sharing deal signed in May between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army but said it had to be implemented as soon as possible. These accords do not cover the separate civil war in Darfur.

In Brussels yesterday, the European Union said it was giving £8m to support the quick deployment of an African Union peace-keeping force to Sudan.

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