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European Writers, Scholars Urge EU Action on Darfur

A group of 10 European authors, playwrights and scholars has written an open letter to European Union leaders calling for action to end the violence in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.

In a letter published in Saturday's edition of the British newspaper The Independent, the group chastised the 27 EU leaders for holding celebrations in Germany while people continue to die in Darfur.

European leaders are gathering in Berlin Saturday to mark the EU's 50th anniversary.

The writers are urging the EU to impose sanctions on the Sudanese government, including banning travel, freezing assets and cutting off trade.

The group includes Italian writer Umberto Eco, playwright and former Czech President Vaclev Havel and Irish poet Seamus Heaney, among others.

Fighting between rebels and militias backed by the Sudanese government in Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced at least two million others since 2003.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has blocked United Nations efforts to send peacekeeping forces into Darfur to relieve an ill-equipped African Union force in Darfur that has not been able to stop the violence there.

In an interview earlier this week, President Bashir rejected reports that Arab militias have burned thousands of villages in Darfur and denied allegations of mass rapes in the region.

He also said he believes the United States is trying to gain control of Darfur's oil and gas reserves.

Both Chad and Sudan are resisting allowing U.N. troops to deploy to their countries.

Last year, Sudan agreed in principal to accept a joint AU-U.N. force in Darfur. However, earlier this month, President Bashir sent a letter to the United Nations expressing doubts about the plan.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.