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US Vows to Help Stop Slavery in Sudan - 2002-05-24

The Bush administration says it will work for implementation of the recommendations of a U.S.-led international commission that examined the issue of slavery in Sudan. The panel faults the Sudanese government for doing too little to control the practice, largely carried on by militia groups armed by Khartoum authorities.

The eight-member commission, including representatives from the United States, Britain, Norway, Italy and France, did not accuse Sudan's Islamic government of being directly involved in the slave trade.

But it did say that the authorities in Khartoum have long turned a blind-eye to the abduction and forced servitude of villagers in the western and southern parts of the country by government-armed militias.

The international panel was created earlier this year as part of the peace effort by President Bush's special envoy for Sudan, John Danforth.

Released Wednesday in Khartoum, its report says the militiamen have been burning and looting villages in the rebel-controlled south, and abducting and enslaving residents, mainly women and children, since the start of the country's civil war two decades ago.

Thus it says the pattern of slave-taking is "to a substantial degree" a product of the counter-insurgency strategy of successive Sudanese governments.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker called on Khartoum authorities to act on the panel report, and move against the militias. "As the commission confirms slavery exists in Sudan, and the report points a way toward ending it. The report," he continued, "specifically cites the need for Sudanese government civilian authorities to control militias and armed forces that are responsible for slave raids, and for elimination of the infamous 'supply train' that supports government outposts in the south, and from which raiding parties are organized. Sudanese authorities must also enforce laws against slavery, and prosecute those involved."

Mr. Reeker said the commission also recommends strengthening institutions that identify and return abducted persons, and setting up a monitoring mechanism to end slave raids. No accurate figures exist on the number of enslaved persons in Sudan, but estimates range from 10,000 to ten times than number.

The report said both sides in the conflict had engaged in human rights violations and that the rebels had also abducted people and forced civilians to join them.

It was announced earlier this week that Mr. Danforth will stay on in the Sudan envoy's post and that U.S. settlement efforts will continue focussing on support of the Kenyan-led East African peace initiative of "IGAD," the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development.