Get tough with Sudan over Darfur, Government is told

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The Government came under mounting pressure yesterday to take tougher action against the Sudanese government to end the killings, rape, burning and looting in Darfur.

The Government came under mounting pressure yesterday to take tougher action against the Sudanese government to end the killings, rape, burning and looting in Darfur.

Baroness Amos, the Leader of the House of Lords, came under fire when she rejected calls for Britain to join the United States in declaring that the actions of the government-backed Janjaweed militia were genocide. She said such "labelling" would make no difference to the action being taken by the British Government.

Lady Amos praised the report by Lord Alton of Liverpool, published in The Independent yesterday, on his recent visit to the refugee camps in Darfur. But she could not accept the crossbench peer's recommendations for a formal genocide declaration and economic sanctions against Sudan.

Answering a question from Lord Alton in the Lords, Lady Amos confirmed estimates that up to 70,000 people may have died in Darfur since March, with 1.45 million displaced and 200,000 more fleeing to Chad.

"I entirely agree that grave crimes against humanity have been committed in Sudan," she said. The Government was working for a long-term peace settlement and to ensure the security environment allowed the aid agencies to operate effectively in Darfur.

Lady Amos added: "The most important thing is to recognise that the channels that we have with the government of Sudan remain open. [It] could be even more disastrous than the situation we have now if those channels were closed."

After the short debate, Lord Alton criticised the minister's response. He said: "The Government is trying to help at a humanitarian level, but there is little point in feeding people if ultimately you allow them to be killed by the Janjaweed militia." He said a genocide declaration would allow the perpetrators to be brought to justice and send a powerful signal of the world's determination to act.

Lord Alton told peers he had "harrowing first-hand accounts of ethnically motivated killings, rapes, burnings and lootings" in Darfur. He expressed concern over the "abject failure of the international community" to act decisively over this "human catastrophe and genocide".

Baroness Williams of Crosby, the former Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, said the rules of engagement for the African Union force to operate in Darfur would allow it "to protect monitors not civilians".

Lord Holme of Cheltenham, a Liberal Democrat, said: "The passivity of the Arab League in the face of the wholesale massacre of African Muslims by Arab Muslims is a scandal. What exactly is the [British] Government doing to bring pressure on the Arab League and its member countries to treat these horrors seriously?"

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, warned that the war in Iraq was dissuading the international community from intervening in in Darfur. "The international community has been reluctant to send another force to Sudan, another Islamic country. There is a feeling in the Arab world that one is going to repeat what has happened in Iraq, regardless of the objectives and intentions. There is this sense among the membership that it is best to send in African troops."

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