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NGOs: Refugees in Darfur Desperate for Humanitarian Aid, Protection - 2004-08-27

The head of a New York-based Jewish charity says the Sudanese government does not appear to be taking steps to stop Janjaweed militia violence or facilitate delivery of humanitarian aid. And with the U.N.'s August 30 deadline fast approaching, a leading human rights group also says there is no evidence that the Sudanese government is disarming the Arab fighters, as promised.

Ruth Messinger is the president of the American World Jewish Service, a private group that raises money for the developing world. She recently returned from a trip to Sudan where she visited internally displaced camps in the Darfur region. She says many people told her of seeing family members killed by Janjaweed militiamen, being forced to flee their homes, and living under continuous threat of attack.

"At the same time they could not have been clearer that in most of these camps there is not enough food, that there is a kind of constant sense of desperation that more people are coming in, that they are living with dramatic examples of bad health in their families," said Ms. Messinger.

A U.N. Security Council resolution calls for the Sudanese government to show it is taking steps to disarm the Arab fighters, known as the Janjaweed by their victims, by a deadline of August 30, or face possible international penalties.

Sudanese officials claim they are cracking down on the Janjaweed militia. Government authorities say they have arrested an unspecified number of fighters, and that safety inside the refugee camps has improved.

But New York-based Human Rights Watch released a report Friday that says more than a dozen Janjaweed militia camps continue to operate in plain sight. International observers in Darfur also say that the government has given official security uniforms to Janjaweed fighters, so that many are now supposedly guarding the camps they were recently attacking.

Ms. Messinger says that during her week-long trip, she saw no proof that the government is moving fast enough.

"The August 30 deadline that was established by the U.N. Security Council for the Sudanese government to disarm the militia looks very much like a deadline that will come and go," she added. "And I would describe the Sudanese government as simply trying to manipulate any political situation in which they find themselves. And they have already, and are quite likely to ask for [another] extension. But an extension, frankly, doesn't have any meaning unless you're in the process of doing something and you simply want to say that you won't be done by the previously agreed upon deadline. There's no evidence that they're in process of doing anything."

The United Nations estimates that tens of thousands of people have died and more than one million have been displaced in the conflict, which began a year-and-a-half ago. Some humanitarian groups claim that an outbreak of disease in the camps could result in at least 350,000 additional deaths. U.N. workers are continuing to visit camps and meet with government officials to determine whether or not the Sudanese government is living up to its obligations.