Home | News    Friday 19 March 2004

West Sudan’s Darfur conflict ’world’s greatest humanitarian crisis’

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NAIROBI, March 19 (AFP) — The conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region "is now the world’s greatest humanitarian and human rights catastrophe", a top UN official said in Nairobi.

Mukesh Kapila, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, also told journalists that the Darfur conflict, which erupted in February 2003, was "possibly the world’s hottest war".

The conflict has intensified just as the Khartoum government and the country’s main rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, are finalising a deal to end Sudan’s wider civil war, which began in 1983.

There is considerable international pressure for these talks, held in Kenya, to reach a speedy conclusion.

Meanwhile, the Darfur war, which has only recently begun to receive serious international attention, has killed over 10,000 people and affected more that a million others, according to Kapila.

Systematic rape, a "scorched earth policy" and other attacks on civilians, he said, were "tantamount to war crimes."

Kapila said such attacks had taken place on "a scale comparable to historical situations, including Rwanda" in 1994 where a genocide claimed up to a million lives.

"The only difference between Rwanda and Darfur is the numbers involved of dead, tortured and raped," he said.

"Some people are using the term ethnic cleansing. I say that was not far off the mark," he said.

In one incident in the village of Tawila two weeks ago, "at least 100 women were raped in a few hours," said the UN official.

Kapila said most of the atrocities were being carried out by militia groups fighting the rebel movement that rose up against the Khartoum government in February last year. The rebels accuse Khartoum of marginalising their region.

While declining to accuse the Sudanese government of directly coordinating the activities of the militia, Kapila said Khartoum "could do more to bring the Janjawid (Arab militia) under control."

"We are not seeing any progress," in that regard, he said.

The UN official said he had had reports of "planes and helicopters used in attacks on civilians in the last six weeks."

Only the Khartoum government has access to such aircraft.
Although he declined to use the term genocide, Kapila said "the brunt of the attacks were being carried out on the Furs, Masalit and Zigawa ethnic groups."

The rebel movements in Darfur are drawn from these groups. While Kapila said they had carried out some attacks and looted food convoys, he suggested that they had committed far lesser crimes than the militias.

Noting the progress being made in the talks in Kenya, he warned: "you cannot have peace in Sudan without peace in Darfur."

Earlier this month, Roger Winter, a senior US aid official, sounded similar alarm bells, saying of Darfur, "Arguably, this is the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa, and perhaps in the world."

At the same time, Charles Snyder, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, pointed the finger at the Khartoum government.

"These militias are proxies for the government and Khartoum bears responsibiity for their conduct — whether they say they have control or not," he said at the same hearing.

Winter said a "robust international presence" — including United Nations forces — is needed to ensure respect for human rights and to facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid in Darfur.

In Nairobi on Friday, Kapila said the Peace and Security Council being established by the African Union, which will have a military standby force at its disposal, would do well to examine the Darfur situation carefully, with a view to deploying elements of the military force there.

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