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US 'Outraged' Over Reported Harassment of Darfur Refugees

The State Department Tuesday expressed outrage over reports that Sudanese forces may be trying to evict refugees from displaced persons camps in Sudan's western Darfur region. International aid workers say they are being denied access to the camps, though Sudanese officials deny the camps are under siege.

The State Department says U.S. officials are "outraged" by the reported conduct of the Sudanese military and police, and it is calling on the Khartoum government to cease any attempt to relocate refugees against their will, and to allow immediate access to the camps by humanitarian aid workers.

The statement here followed charges by the United Nations' World Food Program in Geneva that the Sudanese army has surrounded at least two camps in the southern part of Darfur and excluded aid workers with the apparent intention of driving out the refugees.

State Department spokesman Thomas Casey said such actions would contravene Sudan's responsibilities under U.N. guidelines for the treatment of internally displaced people.

He said diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum have raised concern over what he termed the "disturbing" accounts by the World Food Program with authorities in Khartoum.

The Sudanese government has denied that government forces have the camps under siege, saying instead that angry Arab tribesmen had gathered outside the camps after the kidnapping of a number of tribesmen by Darfur rebels.

Officials here acknowledge that it is difficult to ascertain the facts about such incidents and that the rebels have engaged in what they described as "unhelpful" activity. But they say it is the Sudanese government which is ultimately responsible for the safety of the people in the camps.

Two non-Arab rebel groups in Darfur began an uprising against the Sudanese government early last year.

Since then, about 1.5 million black African villagers have been displaced by scorched-earth warfare waged mainly by Arab militiamen armed and supported by authorities in Khartoum.

The United Nations says more than 70,000 people have died, mainly from disease, in what it describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The United States, which has termed the Darfur situation genocide, is supporting the deployment of more than three thousand African Union monitors and support troops tasked with implementing a cease-fire accord reached in Chad last April.

The State Department has criticized truce violations by both the Sudanese government and the Darfur rebels, who have been holding on-and-off peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.