Annan visits Sudanese refugees in Chadian desert; will press Sudan to end fighting

Friday, July 2nd 2004, 1:14 pm
By: News On 6

IRIDIMI CAMP, Chad (AP) _ U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited Sudanese refugees at a desert camp in Chad on Friday and promised to press Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir on commitments to end violence that has chased more than 1 million people from their homes in the embattled Darfur region.

Sudanese officials have pledged to improve security in Darfur and disarm all armed groups, but Annan said, ``We need to have a sense that the government is really serious about protecting the people so that they feel secure and go home.

``I'm going to be speaking to the president tonight, but even after that we are going to be monitoring'' Darfur, Annan said before arriving at Iridimi Camp, where about 15,000 people are seeking shelter.

``I think you need to pull them along to cooperate.''

U.N. officials and human rights groups have accused the Sudanese government of backing Arab militias engaged in a campaign to violently expel African farmers from the vast region.

U.N. officials have called the situation the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, and Annan has said it ``is bordering on ethnic cleansing.''

Many Sudanese who have fled tell the same story: airplanes dropping bombs and raiders on horseback who burn, kill and loot.

Thousands of people have been killed and more than a million forced from their homes, most taking shelter in makeshift camps with little access to clean water or proper sanitation.

The Sudanese government denies any complicity in the militia attacks and says the warring sides are clashing over land and scarce water resources.

The U.N. children's agency in Geneva said Friday that many young people from Darfur either had been victims of violence or scarred by witnessing violent acts, including rape and murder.

``I spoke with scores of children, who simply tell what they have seen _ infants shot in front of them, parents gunned down in fields, mothers raped ... and people being forced to run for their lives with nothing,'' said Dan Toole, UNICEF's director of emergency operations.

At a camp Thursday inside Sudan, Annan said international troops could be sent to Darfur if the situation does not improve.

But without firm commitments on troops or logistical support from major powers like the United States, Annan was heading Friday to Sudan's capital, Khartoum, to press Bashir to make good on promises to disarm the Arab militias known as the Janjaweed.

``It is more dangerous to threaten and not go through with it,'' he said Friday. We ``can't go around saying 'Send in the cavalry, this is genocide,' raise the hopes of the victims.''

Thousands turned out to see Annan at the Iridimi Camp in this desolate landscape 44 miles west of the Sudanese border.

``All we want is peace so we can return,'' said Saleh Hamid Moubarak, a 57-year-old who is living at the camp, a mass of flimsy shelters made from sticks and plastic sheets. ``Our children were killed, our belongings looted, our women raped.''

The United States called on the United Nations to impose an arms embargo and travel ban on the Arab militias in a draft resolution submitted Wednesday to coincide with a visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell to Darfur. Powell presented the Sudanese government with a timetable to implement its promises to disarm the militias and lift restrictions on humanitarian workers.

Powell also gave the government a timetable to negotiate a settlement to the 16-month uprising in Darfur.