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British Lawmakers Decry Sudan Violence

A committee of the British Parliament says about 300,000 people have been killed in ethnic warfare in Sudan's western Darfur region. That figure is more than four times larger that the United Nations' estimate.

The International Development Committee of the House of Commons has issued its findings in a report published Wednesday.

The committee says the U.N. World Health Organization has made a "gross underestimate" by reporting only 70,000 deaths in the Darfur conflict, which began in February 2003.

The committee estimates 300,000 people have been killed and that the attacks on civilians in Darfur are "no less serious or heinous that genocide."

In the committee's view, the world community is guilty, as the report puts it, of a "scandalously ineffective response" to the crisis. Committee chairman Tony Baldry elaborated on that point in comments to British radio.

"One of the tragedies about Darfur is that for the whole of the earlier part of this disaster, the international community seemed to turn its eyes away or it was just not willing to recognized the scale and the horrendousness of what was actually going on," he said.

The Darfur fighting traces its roots to the competition for scarce water resources between black farmers and Arab herdsmen. In 2003, two black rebel groups took up arms, saying the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum had neglected the region's needs.

In response, Arab militias, called Janjaweed, began attacking black villages. Survivors of the attacks and international human rights observers say the Sudanese military has given air support to the Janjaweed, although Khartoum denies this.

The fighting has uprooted about two million people from their homes in what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The British government is playing down the parliament committee's criticism. The Department for International Development says London has helped negotiate a cease-fire in Darfur and has contributed nearly $125 million for relief operations there.