17/06/2004

Annan to visit Sudan over humanitarian crisis

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today announced plans to travel to Sudan, after the world body earlier this week accused the Sudanese government of being responsible for the slaughter of dozens of civilians in villages in the Darfur region of the country.

On Tuesday, a UN human rights expert who is on a fact-finding mission in the country said that she had also received reports of mass killings by government-sponsored militias in the Malakal region.

Following a 13-day tour of Sudan, UN's Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Asma Jahangir, said that she was “disturbed and alarmed by the gravity of the human rights abuses perpetrated” in Africa’s largest country.

The Darfur region is where the greatest problem lies, as two rebel groups have been fighting the Sudanese government since early last year. Aid agencies believe that a humanitarian crisis "is unfolding", Ms Jahangir said.

More than 150,000 people have crossed into Chad fleeing atrocities in Darfur – which is itself home to a million internally displaced persons, many of whom are at high risk of dying from malnutrition or disease.

Speaking to reporters as he arrived at UN Headquarters in New York, the Secretary-General said: “I myself expect to visit Sudan soon. It is the responsibility of the government to protect the population and we need to encourage it and must insist it does it.”

On the humanitarian situation, he said the UN is “rushing to get as much supplies on the ground before the rains come”.

In addition, the UN is pressing the Sudanese Government “to allow humanitarian workers – UN and NGO [non-governmental organization] – to be given free access to Darfur and allow supplies and equipment to come in”, he said.

“We have also asked the Sudanese Government to take steps to contain the Janjaweed militia, who are doing quite a lot of the killing and destruction of the lives of the people in the region.

”While there have been improvements, he said, “much more needs to be done.”

Pressed as to whether the situation constitutes a genocide, Mr Annan said that, based on the reports he has received, he could not at this stage term it as such.

“There are massive violations of international humanitarian law,” he added.

The Secretary-General said he discussed the issue with high-level representatives of the Khartoum government during his recent trip to Sao Paolo, Brazil.

(gmcg)

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