UN warns Sudan over attacks on villagers

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The Independent Online

Kofi Annan criticised the Sudanese government yesterday for failing to halt attacks on civilians in Darfur and called for an expanded international force to be dispatched quickly to the troubled region.

Kofi Annan criticised the Sudanese government yesterday for failing to halt attacks on civilians in Darfur and called for an expanded international force to be dispatched quickly to the troubled region.

In a report to the United Nations Security Council, which will decide in the coming days whether to impose sanctions against Khartoum, the secretary general concluded that "attacks against civilians are continuing and the vast majority of armed militias have not been disarmed."

Sudan was supposed to have complied with the UN demands by last Monday and Mr Annan called for an all-African force to be expanded as quickly as possible to provide a security environment in which refugees feel it is safe to return home.

The Sudanese government's crackdown against black African farmers who rebelled over land and resources 18 months ago has forced 1.3 million people from their homes and left up to 50,000 dead. "Most of the targeted violence resulted from a scorched-earth policy which was adopted by armed militias," Mr Annan said. One hundred thousand people have fled across the border into Chad.

Britain has declined to send troops to Sudan - which would not be welcome in any case, according to Khartoum - and is letting the African Union (AU) take the lead in putting together a force that would serve as a deterrent against further atrocities.

Mr Annan stressed that the Sudanese government was responsible for maintaining security in Darfur. The AU force, which could be boosted from 300 to 3,000 troops is technically for monitoring a ceasefire between the rebels and the Arab militias known as the Janjaweed. But it is not a peacekeeping force. "I believe that a substantially increased international presence in Darfur is required as quickly as possible," Mr Annan said.

The Security Council meets today to hear a briefing from the special envoy Jan Pronk, but diplomats say the 15-member council has no appetite for sanctions against a Muslim state after the Iraq war.

Britain backs the expansion of the all-African force to help ease the humanitarian crisis, and has approached South Africa in the hope of obtaining more soldiers to join the Nigerians and Rwandans making up the bulk of the force.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who visited Sudan last week, said yesterday that "the modest improvements to date have come about primarily because of the pressure exerted by the international community".

A senior American military commander said the US would be willing to airlift AU troops into the region, but he also alleged that the Khartoum regime could disarm the Janjaweed Arab militia very rapidly if it really wanted to do so.

In the first direct offer of American military support in the Darfur crisis, General Charles Wald, the deputy head of US forces in Europe, said providing transport planes to ferry forces will not pose a problem.

But he added: "Certainly the Sudanese government in about two seconds could decide to rein in the Janjaweed and the other rebels. That can happen in a very easy way. It's more of a political will issue."

General Wald, who is part of the Pentagon's strategic training staff, added that US European Command has provided an adviser to the AU monitors, and may provide further assistance. The Americans have a large number of military personnel in neighbouring Chad.

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