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Rights Report: Sudan Deliberately Targeting Civilians - 2004-02-03

The London-based human-rights group, Amnesty International, says the Sudanese government and its Arab militia allies in the western Darfur region are deliberately targeting civilians and committing atrocities. Escalating violence threatens progress toward a peace deal in southern Sudan.

The Amnesty International report on Darfur is the first major report the human-rights group has released on the conflict in western Sudan, since it erupted early last year.

Amnesty says a team interviewed numerous refugees in neighboring Chad, who fled Darfur in recent months. The refugees, estimated to number more than 100,000, live scattered along the border in makeshift shelters.

One of the Amnesty team members, Benedict Goderiaux, says those interviews have convinced the human-rights group that the Sudanese government is deliberately and brutally targeting civilians in the area.

Ms. Goderiaux said that Amnesty also believes the government is fully backing the Janjawid militia in Darfur, a charge the government in Khartoum denies.

Composed of men from Arab ethnic groups in western Sudan, the Janjawid militia is feared by all in the region, said Ms. Goderiaux.

"What the civilians are subjected to is indiscriminate bombings by the Sudanese air force and more importantly, ground attacks by the Janjawid, often accompanied by Sudanese army soldiers, who circle the village, kill people, beat women, sometimes rape women and girls, and then burn the houses, destroy the crops and loot the cattle," she said. "The militia appears to be well-armed - rifles, guns, bazookas, machine guns. And they are often dressed in military uniforms."

Such reports have not been independently verified.

The Sudanese government will not allow human-rights groups, aid workers or journalists to visit Darfur to investigate. But journalists, visiting refugees on the Chadian side of the border this past week, say they watched Sudanese military jets carry out massive bombing raids in western Sudan.

There has long been tension in western Sudan between Arab nomads and African farmers over water and grazing land. But last year, two rebel groups took up arms, demanding a halt to what they describe as discriminatory policies by the Islamic government against Africans in Darfur.

After Chad-sponsored cease-fire talks collapsed in December, the Sudanese government launched fresh offensives to crush the resistance.

Ms. Goderiaux at Amnesty International says the fighting in western Sudan is likely to complicate any peace deal being forged to end Sudan's 20-year-long civil war in the south.

"Amnesty International has repeatedly asked the mediators of the peace process for southern Sudan to include guarantees for the human-rights for all Sudanese in all areas of Sudan," she said. "There will not be sustainable peace in Sudan unless the human-rights abuses in Darfur are addressed as well."

The Sudanese government has not commented on the Amnesty report. It has described the conflict in Darfur as a local security problem and has rejected calls to include the problems of western Sudan in peace talks with southern-based rebels.