Atrocities continuing in Darfur, British official warns

Foreign minister calls fear `palpable' among refugees

August 25, 2004|By Robyn Dixon | Robyn Dixon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

KHARTOUM, Sudan - British Foreign Minister Jack Straw spoke yesterday to fearful victims of violence sheltered at the Abu Shouk camp in the Sudanese region of Darfur and later warned that atrocities were continuing in the western area.

Straw's comments came as Amnesty International reported that government bombing raids and attacks by militias continued to afflict villagers in Darfur. The London-based organization accused the Sudanese government of arresting and intimidating displaced people and others who spoke out to foreign observers about the crisis there.

The foreign minister's visit, designed to increase the pressure on the Sudanese government, came days before a report to the U.N. Security Council on what progress Khartoum has made in disarming Arab militias responsible for the terror and improving security in Darfur.

International sanctions and punitive measures are seen as unlikely, but given the poor progress on security, Sudan faces intense international pressure to accept several thousand extra African Union troops and cease-fire monitors, a measure seen by Western diplomats in the Sudanese capital as a positive step.

"What I understand is that there has not been aerial bombardment since the end of June, that the cease-fire as a formal cease-fire is broadly holding, but that atrocities have continued," Straw said yesterday at a news conference in Khartoum.

He said that people felt safe within the camps but that it was imperative to improve security outside.

"It's palpable the fear people have, about the way people feel they were driven from their homes and the fear people have about going back to their homes and returning to their livelihoods," he said.

The bombardments and helicopter attacks this year focused international concerns that the violence against civilians was being carried out by the Sudanese military in concert with Arab militias. Amnesty International's report released early today said bombings were still occurring.

The United Nations estimates that 50,000 people have died and that more than 1.2 million have fled their homes because of the violence.

Straw said that no one group was to blame for the killings and atrocities but that the government had to take the heaviest responsibility because it held the power.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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