Sudan condemned for letting slavery flourish

International panel says government aids militias

May 23, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

KHARTOUM, Sudan - An international commission led by the United States condemned the Sudanese government yesterday for allowing slavery to flourish in this war-racked country.

But the commission said the issue was not as clear-cut as it was often portrayed, and panel members questioned whether international Christian organizations that buy back slaves are helping the situation.

Government officials here have long denied any role in what they call tribal abductions. As a show of concern, in 1999 Sudan created the Commission for the Elimination of Abductions of Women and Children to address the problem. Few outside experts take the group seriously.

But the international panel, which was created this year by the United States and includes officials from France, Italy, Norway and Britain, said in a report issued yesterday that Sudan had done too little to control a practice largely carried out by militiamen armed by the government.

"They burn villages, loot cattle, rape and kill civilians, and abduct and enslave men, women and children," the panel said in its 71-page report, which includes interviews with many former slaves.

The findings will come as no surprise to U.S. policy-makers, who have long accused Sudan of tacitly allowing slavery to exist. The international panel was created as part of the diplomatic effort of John C. Danforth, President Bush's special envoy for the country.

In Danforth's report to Bush last month, he said bluntly, "The record is clear: The government arms and directs marauding raiders who operate in the south, destroying villages and abducting women and children to serve as chattel servants, herders and field hands."

The panel found no easy answers. It said the government ought to aggressively prosecute those who engage in slavery and actively seek to return captives to their homes. Ending the 18-year civil war is the ultimate solution to the problem, panel members said.

Led by Penn Kemble, a former director of the U.S. Information Agency, the commission found that as far back as the early 1800s, Arab and European slave traders in the north of Sudan rounded up Africans in the south. The practice was made illegal in 1924.

But a modern version of slavery continues, the commission found. It exists without slave markets or a formal slave trade. Instead, raiders attack villages to round up forced laborers.

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