The Sudanese government has launched a new military assault in southern Darfur, according to a leading human rights group, attacking villages and displacing thousands of civilians before a deadline for the conclusion of peace talks.
The report comes as the actor George Clooney has added his voice to calls for action to stop the violence. He joined US senators in Washington yesterday to call for more international efforts to stop the violence. The actor and his father recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Darfur.
Human Rights Watch said the Sudanese military had used planes and helicopter gunships to attack several villages. The New York-based group believes the Sudanese authorities may be attempting to consolidate territory before the end of the talks in Nigeria.
Its report says that credible eye-witnesses told how government forces and allied Arab militias began attacking the village of Joghana in territory controlled by the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) early on Monday. Civilians who fled from the town said that an Antonov plane and two helicopters were used and that the plane dropped bombs that killed a unknown number of civilians.
"Khartoum's new attacks on civilians show the Security Council needs to move quickly on a UN protection force for Darfur," said Peter Takirambudde, HRW's Africa director. "They also show that the sanctions, while welcome, may not hit hard enough - or high enough - and civilians will continue to pay the price."
Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, has proposed replacing a largely ineffective African Union force of 7,000 with a UN force of 20,000. The Sudanese government has so far rejected the proposal.