World marches to save Darfur

With demonstrations in 40 countries yesterday, pressure is mounting on Sudan to allow in peacekeepers and end a conflict in which 300,000 people have died
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Indy Politics

Survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide marched through the streets of Kigali yesterday, calling for the world to take action to end the slaughter in Darfur. They were joined by hundreds of thousands of protesters in more than 40 countries around the world - many of whom wore blue hats to symbolise support for a United Nations peacekeeping force to enter the troubled Sudanese region.

More than 300,000 people are believed to have died and at least 2.5 million have lost their homes in what the United States and some humanitarian groups have labelled genocide.

Freddy Umutanguha, who survived the Rwandan genocide, said: "We survivors stand with the victims in Darfur. We know what it is like to lose our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. We know what it is like to lose everything and see all who are dearest to us destroyed."

In London, survivors of the Holocaust joined protesters outside the Sudanese embassy, while Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders delivered prayers for the people of Darfur to Downing Street.

The former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright addressed a rally in Central Park, New York, and demonstrations and rallies took place across Asia and Africa.

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution two weeks ago to send 20,000 peacekeepers to Darfur to end the crisis. But the resolution requires Sudan's government to agree to the presence of UN troops, and so far Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir, has refused.

Some 7,000 poorly equipped African Union troops are currently trying to keep a lid on the violence. But their mandate ends on 30 September and Sudan is unwilling to allow them to stay.

Speaking in Havana, at a meeting of non-aligned nations, Mr Bashir said: "We don't want the United Nations back to Sudan, no matter the conditions." He has likened a UN force in Darfur to "Western colonisation" and has vowed to personally lead the "jihad" against it.

Yesterday Tony Blair outlined a "carrot and stick" approach to persuading Sudan to allow in a UN force. The Prime Minister also wrote to leaders of EU nations and the EU president, Jose Manuel Barroso, calling for joint European action.

While it is unlikely that a UN force will be arriving in Darfur soon, diplomatic activity over the weekend and in the coming week is likely to lead to some action. The UN has passed a resolution calling for a no-fly zone to be imposed over Darfur, although like all 13 resolutions passed on Darfur it has not yet been enforced. One of the main tactics employed by Sudan is to bomb villages from the air before the Janjaweed, horse-borne militia, move in. Diplomats believe the no-fly zone could be introduced soon as a first step. France has jet fighters in neighbouring Chad which could enforce it.

Mr Blair and President George Bush have also been trying to persuade China, one of Sudan's strongest allies, to use its influence to change Mr Bashir's mind. China has lucrative oil ties to Sudan and, along with another country with economic links, Russia, refused to vote for the recent UN resolution to send in peacekeepers.

Western diplomats believe that China may throw its weight behind the call for a UN force. While Mr Bashir claims to be against a UN presence in his country, some 10,000 "blue helmets" are in south Sudan implementing a recently signed peace agreement between north and south. White UN Land Cruisers are a common site in Sudan's capital, Khartoum.

Mr Bashir has also argued that the push for a UN force in Darfur is coming mainly from the West. But Muslim groups were heavily involved in yesterday's "Day for Darfur" and more demonstrations and events took place in Africa than in Europe.

Brendan Cox, director of Crisis Action, said: "What you saw was the coming together of Muslims, Christians and Jews with a very clear single message. The situation is on the edge - we are looking into the abyss. The international community has to live up to its responsibilities."