Families 'burnt alive by Sudanese militia'

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The Independent Online

Women and children are being chained together and burnt alive by Sudanese militias rampaging in Darfur. The groups, known as the janjaweed, arrived in villages on horseback, rounded up men, women and children, and set them alight in the market-place.

Women and children are being chained together and burnt alive by Sudanese militias rampaging in Darfur. The groups, known as the janjaweed, arrived in villages on horseback, rounded up men, women and children, and set them alight in the market-place.

One man, sitting in the devastated village of Dugu in south Darfur, said: "The janjaweed came, they grabbed these people; men, women, everyone and they burnt them. They even killed my son. He was only eight. There was at least one other child there too."

Witnesses say they found between 10 and 15 bodies smouldering. Observers from the African Union found similar burnings in Sulei and Ehda in western Darfur, where "the entire village had been burnt and deserted, except for a few men". The AU observers added: "This was an unwarranted and unprovoked attack on the civilian population by the janjaweed."

The international community is increasing pressure on the Sudanese government to disarm the janjaweed, which has been accused of raping women and girls, and massacring villages that are non-Arab.

The African Union, made up of all the African states, is considering turning its military observer mission into a fully fledged peace-keeping force, with particular emphasis on disarming the Janjaweed. African leaders meet in Ghana today, to try to find an "African solution" to the Darfur crisis.

But at the United Nations, an explicit threat of sanctions against the Sudanese government if it fails to disarm the militias could be dropped from a draft resolution today because of opposition from several countries, including Pakistan, Russia and China.

Sources believe although Britain and the United States have strongly favoured retaining the sanctions threat in the text, they were preparing to back down as the only way to attain broad support on the Sudan resolution in the Security Council. A vote on the draft resolution is likely to be taken today or tomorrow. It is likely to include a slightly less specific warning of "further measures" that would be considered to punish Khartoum if it has not restrained the militias within 30 days. Five countries, led by Pakistan, say the Sudanese government should be given more time.

The British and American governments are also gathering evidence to decide whether the atrocities can be declared a genocide, which would invoke a legal obligation to intervene. But the British government and the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, have said it is premature to talk of military intervention.

The Sudanese government has said it is willing to disarm the janjaweed but insists that will not be done until the rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, also surrender their arms. It claims the rebel groups have killed 1,460 civilians since signing a ceasefire in April and are the main hindrance to getting aid to the region. The information minister, Al-Zahawi Ibrahim Malik, said: "Instead of using Darfur for electoral ends, as the American administration is doing, the world should push those involved to sit at the negotiating table."

The Sudanese government is jittery about threats of military intervention. The Foreign Minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, has warned that Sudanese soldiers would fight if foreign troops are sent to Darfur.

The World Food Programme is using all-terrain trucks to get food to Darfur, which is being cut off by seasonal rains. Each truck will take more than three weeks to reach Darfur from the Port of Sudan.

The fighting has claimed 30,000 lives, and one million civilians are in refugee camps in Darfur. The Chadian government has asked for international aid agencies to help it cope with 170,000 Darfur refugees.

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