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UN Expert Says Action Needed to Prevent Genocide in Several African Countries

A top U.N. official is warning that action must be taken to prevent conflicts in several African countries from turning into genocide. Juan Mendez tells VOA the situation is particularly dangerious in Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Uganda, and Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur.

Juan Mendez is special adviser to the U.N. Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide. He visited Darfur in October 2004 and in September 2005. He says that although the international community has never determined whether genocide actually occurred in Darfur, he has no doubt that war crimes have already been comitted there, and he does not rule out the possibility that Sudanese-backed militia are intent on exterminating a whole race of people in Darfur.

"The situation is very tense and very complicated and all the elements that could lead to genocide are very much in place in Darfur today. So, the task of preventing genocide is by no means complete," he said.

Mendez says early warnings of a genocide include the spread of religious intolerance, racism and xenophobia. He says his job is to monitor countries to see whether these signs are present and to issue warnings to the world community to prevent genocide.

Besides the Darfur region of Sudan, Mendez says another danger area is the Ivory Coast, where there are signs of growing intolerance against immigrants. The intolerance extends even to people who have been born in the country, but are not considered true Ivorians.

"The problem as well is that the tension is so high and there are armed militias and there is extensive hate speech, all of which creates a situation of tension that can quickly derive into mass violence and mass violence in which these so-called non-Ivorians are at risk," he said.

Mendez says he is also keeping close watch on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that has a long history of mass slaughter.

"That is the one factor that every expert says is something to look at. When a country has experience with genocide or genocide situations, you look particularly at it to prevent things from happening again. In the DRC, the problems right now are happening in the eastern part and they by in large involve armed militias and guerrillas and armed movements. But, in an important way, it affects the civilian population in that area."

U.N. genocide expert Mendez says other countries of concern include northern Uganda, Myanmar, West Papua in Indonesia, Central Asia and the Caucuses and Colombia, where, he says, indigenous populations are at risk of extinction.