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UN Team Travels to Darfur to Investigate Genocide

Members of the International Commission of Inquiry are scheduled to travel Wednesday to Darfur, where for 10 days they will interview local residents, government officials, rebels, and others about events taking place in the troubled region.

The spokesman for the U.N. Advanced Mission in Sudan, George Somerwill, said the team will try to determine whether the violence in the war-torn area constitutes genocide, and, if so, who exactly is responsible for that genocide.

Mr. Somerwill said the international community has been bombarded with confusing and sometimes contradictory reports about the causes and nature of the conflict, especially about whether or not there is an organized plan to attack people of a specific race.

"Clearly, the international community through the United Nations is extremely perturbed by the reports which are coming out of Darfur," he said. "We have to determine if indeed these reports are true or even partially true. We then have to insist that there is accountability. That is not only accountability of the government of Sudan, but the accountability of other groups as well - rebel groups."

The team is expected to submit its report within three months to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Mr. Somerwill did not specify what follow-up action would occur after that.

Last month, Mr. Annan appointed the team, led by Italian judge Antonio Cassese, to determine if genocide is taking place in Darfur. The U.N. Security Council had earlier requested such a mission.

The United States already labels the situation in Darfur as being a "genocide." The U.S. government has accused the Sudanese government of supporting a militia known as janjaweed, which according to many reports is an Arab group bent on attacking so-called "black African" populations.

Sudan's Minister of Humanitarian Affairs Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid said the U.N. team is welcome to come to Darfur.

"We have nothing to hide in Sudan," he said. "We have asked anyone from any country to come and to see by himself, and we are not worried about these things because we think that there is no genocide. These are people from one origin. Whether they are talking Arabs or whether they are not talking Arab, they are the same people."

Mr. Hamid said people are fighting primarily over access to land and other resources, which he said happens a lot in his country. He said the two rebel groups operating in the area have violated a ceasefire agreement signed earlier with the government.

The Darfur conflict, which broke out in early 2003, has claimed tens of thousands of lives and has displaced some 1.5 million people.