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Tuesday, October 10, 2006


UN: Hundreds died in August attacks in Darfur

GENEVA, Switzerland (Reuters) -- The United Nations human rights chief Monday said "several hundred" civilians -- far more than first thought -- may have died in late August attacks by militias in the south of Sudan's violent Darfur region.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said the attacks appeared to have been carried out with the "knowledge and material support" of the government.

"The attacks ... were massive in scale, involving a large number of villages, and were carried out over only a few days. Government knowledge, if not complicity, in the attacks is almost certain," according to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

A statement accompanying the report said, "The (OHCHR) ... is urging the government of Sudan to order an independent investigation into recent militia attacks that may have left hundreds of civilians dead in south Darfur."

Early last month the OHCHR put the possible death toll from raids near Buram at 38. Many of the 10,000 people in the 45 villages targeted in the attacks, which began on August 28 and lasted into September, were forced to flee.

But the office of the high commissioner revised the toll in its latest report on the situation in Darfur, drawn up with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Sudan, and based on interviews with survivors of the attacks and other sources.

"The large-scale assaults resulted in chaotic displacement, widespread separation of families and scores of missing children," the report said. "Most of the villages attacked were under government control," it added.

Sudan's Justice Minister Mohamed Ali al-Mardi said Arbour's office was not using reliable sources, adding that the government did not back one side against another in Darfur.

"The sources ... are not reliable and they have become very ready to accept whatever is said to them," al-Mardi said. "They declare what they have heard and after some time it turns out to be not true," he said.

Violence in Darfur has taken tens of thousands of lives since 2003 and more than 2 million people have been driven from their homes after a simmering ethnic conflict between nomadic Arab tribes and mostly non-Arabs erupted into war.

Rebels said they were defending the sedentary "African" farmers against the government and its Janjaweed militia allies, which the United States has accused of acts of genocide.

The Buram raids were carried out by between 300 and 1,000 armed men from the Habbania "Arab" tribe, according to the office of the high commissioner. Subsequent attacks by militia from another government-allied tribe, the Fallata, caused the population to scatter even further, hampering aid efforts.

The report cited local officials as saying the attacks were a response to previous rebel action in the area, although there was little sign of a rebel presence at the time.

In five of the main attacks, which formed the basis for the report, militia members wore khaki uniforms similar to those worn by government forces, carried heavy weaponry in most cases and were accompanied by vehicles, according to the report.

"Several interviewees noted that the Habbania militiamen themselves do not possess vehicles nor the kind of heavy weapons used," it added.

According to the report, the aim of the assault appeared to be to drive out settlers who had arrived in the area in the 1970s fleeing drought in the north of Darfur.

Sudan's national government in Khartoum has rejected a proposed U.N. force in Darfur to replace African Union forces who have been unable to stem the violence. The AU mission in Darfur has been extended until December 31, 2006.

Written by CNN.

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