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UN, Sudanese Officials Review Peace Efforts in Darfur - 2004-08-26

Officials from the United Nations and the Sudanese government are in the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan to see whether the government is following through on its commitments to restore peace to the area. An international human rights group says the government still has a long way to go to live up to its promises.

Members of the Joint Implementation Mechanism arrived in Darfur Thursday to check how far the Sudanese government has come in bringing stability and order to the troubled region.

Last month, the Sudanese government and the United Nations agreed on a plan that would, among other things, have Khartoum disarm a pro-government Arab militia called the Janjaweed, which human rights groups and the U.S. Congress say commit atrocities amounting to genocide.

Khartoum also agreed to provide security for the more than 1.2 million people who have been displaced by the conflict and to allow humanitarian aid to reach those affected by the 18-month-old conflict.

The two sides set up the Joint Implementation Mechanism to monitor progress in complying with the agreement. The group is co-chaired by the U.N. Secretary-General's special representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, and Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail.

The U.N. has given Khartoum until August 29 to implement the agreement or face possible political or economic sanctions.

The Sudanese government maintains the situation in Darfur is under control and violence and insecurity have decreased. Foreign Minister Ismail said this week that the government recently arrested 200 Janjaweed members who are either facing trial or are already in jail.

But human rights groups challenge the Sudanese government's assessment. Amnesty International Wednesday released a report accusing the government of arresting and harassing people who speak out against abuses they witness there.

Amnesty International's Sudan researcher, Benedicte Goderiaux, says the situation for people in Darfur is still very tense.

"The protection of civilians is still not ensured, and that on top of the violations that they have been subjected to over the past year, they are now pressured when giving information to U.N. monitors or African Union monitors," said Benedicte Goderiaux. "So the Sudanese government is actually committing new violations. As far as we know, no Janjaweed has been made to account for war crimes and crimes against humanity."

Ms. Goderiaux says that, despite the lack of freedom of speech, people in Darfur will still talk to members of the Joint Implementation Mechanism because they have suffered long enough.