PM pressed to step up Darfur sanctions after fresh wave of violence

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Gordon Brown faced pressure to step up international action on Darfur yesterday, amid warnings that a fresh wave of violence has been unleashed against people in the war-torn province.

Mr Brown called for strengthened sanctions against the Sudanese government and demanded that UN peacekeepers speed up their deployment to Darfur. He urged warring militias and the government of Sudan to enter peace talks in order to end a "humanitarian tragedy of colossal proportions," but said imposing a no-fly zone on the region would be impractical.

Opposition MPs echoed demands for greater action by Western leaders, demanding that they deploy military aircraft to Sudan. But Mr Brown insisted that the way forward was to promote peace talks.

The issue dominated Prime Minister's Question Time after it was revealed that the people of Darfur were falling victim to a new series of attacks, with villages facing bombings and co-ordinated ground assaults.

In August, Mr Brown and the French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, pledged to "redouble" their efforts to bring peace to Darfur, insisting they would press for sanctions. But yesterday David Cameron, the Tory leader, said the Prime Minister's response to the Darfur crisis had been "completely unsatisfactory".

Mr Cameron said: "Seven months ago we were told 20,000 peacekeepers, nearly 4,000 police, would be deployed. Even on the most optimistic estimates, only 10,000 are there today and recent reports say they have no military helicopters whatsoever. This is completely unsatisfactory.

"Anyone who has been to Darfur will talk to people in the refugee camps who will say it was not just the janjaweed militia, it was the Sudanese army that drove me out of my village, it was the Sudanese army coming out of Sudanese aircraft, so the no-fly zone is vital."

Mike Gapes, the Labour chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said the AU had made it clear it did not want European forces on the ground in Darfur. He said: "The African Union and the United Nations itself both have to do more. The British Government has been pressing very strongly in the Security Council and has been using its influence in the European Union. We cannot unilaterally interfere in Sudan, but what we can do is to continue pressing it as an issue."

Mr Brown said: "This is a humanitarian tragedy of colossal proportions, where the world must act... We must strengthen our sanctions against the Sudanese government. We should have military sanctions for the whole of Sudan.

"Most of all we must get people to the peace table and that's why it's important that not only do the government of Sudan come to the peace talks, it's also important that the rebel groups join the peace talks."