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'Elders' Express Horror At What They See in Darfur

A group of elders including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu has told of the horrifying stories they heard during a visit to Sudan's Darfur region, and they urged the international community to speed up the deployment of a new peacekeeping mission for the region. Nick Wadhams has the story from Nairobi.

The Elders, a group of prominent international figures, told reporters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum that people in Darfur were desperate for protection, despite the Sudanese government's insistence that the situation in the region is getting better.

Some people they visited slipped them notes full of allegations of rape and other abuse by militias aligned with the Sudanese government. The wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, told of her meeting with women in Darfur.

"The first thing they told us they need security," she said. "They need security. They gave us examples of what happened to them, even graphically, to show how women are being raped, are beaten and are brutalized. I think because they thought we may not get a clear translation, they went at length of using gestures to show us how brutal it was, the kind of assault they are subjected to."

The elders visited Sudan to raise awareness about the continued insecurity in Darfur, where conflict since 2003 has killed at least 200,000 people and displaced more than two million.

There had been some hope of a resolution after the government of President Omar Al-Bashir agreed to peace talks with various rebel groups starting October 27 in Libya.

Yet the elders group says that the peace talks will fail unless more representatives of the displaced people are allowed to take part.

Archbishop Tutu said his experience touring the troubled region has only made him more sure that the world must help the people of Darfur.

"And we are deeply committed, we are even more determined than before we came here, that we are going to do something about changing the condition of the people of Darfur," he said.

The stakes are high for the talks, which seem to have a nearly impossible task. According to some estimates, there are more than two dozen rebel factions in Darfur, and fighting has not abated even since an agreement for a joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force to replace the largely ineffective African Union force now on the ground.

Over the weekend, rebels attacked an AU peacekeeping post in Darfur, killing 10 soldiers.