U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged the U.N. Human Rights Council to take action to protect the people in Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur and to investigate abuses committed against them.  Annan's appeal to an emergency session in Geneva comes amidst growing fears that the conflict in Darfur could turn into a regional war. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

In a recorded video, Kofi Annan told delegates attending the emergency session that the people of Darfur have endured a nightmare for more than three years.  He said the fighting had escalated in recent weeks and conditions for the civilian population have become even worse.

The U.N. secretary-general recited a catalogue of atrocities ranging from the destruction of villages to rape.  And, he warned, the violence was now spreading to two neighboring countries - Chad and the Central African Republic.

"It is essential that this council send a clear and united message to warn all concerned, on behalf of the whole world, that the current situation is simply unacceptable and will not be allowed to continue," said Mr. Annan.

Annan said the people in Darfur cannot afford to wait another day.  He said the violence, the killings and other violations of human rights must stop. 

"I urge you to lose no time in sending a team of independent and universally respected experts to investigate the latest escalation of abuses," he added.  "It is urgent that we take action to prevent further violations, including by bringing to account those responsible for the numerous crimes that have already been committed."

This emergency session was called last month after Kofi Annan criticized the U.N. Human Rights Council for focusing almost exclusively on Israel and paying scant attention to the tragic situation unfolding in Darfur. 

Since the council came into being six months ago, it has held three special sessions on Israel's attacks in Gaza and Lebanon. 

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, echoed Annan's concerns.
She said there was credible evidence that the Sudanese government was upgrading the militia's arsenals and mobility.  The Janjaweed, Arab militia, have been accused of attacking and pillaging villages, of raping and killing civilians.

Arbour also accused the rebels of widespread atrocities against civilians.  She said they too must be held accountable for violations of international human rights.

"Yet, impunity is rampant.  The desperate plight of the people of Darfur has for too long been neglected or addressed with what the victims should rightly regard-and history will judge-as meek offerings, broken promises, and disregard," she said. 

Sudan's deputy governor, Dr. Farah Mustafa, was not happy with what he heard.

He rejected the charges, calling them ill represented and distorted.  He accused the high commissioner of having a hidden political agenda and of trying to exert pressure on Sudan to accept an international peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Khartoum has repeatedly rejected U.N. proposals to replace the small force of African Union soldiers with a larger, heftier U.N. backed peacekeeping unit.