Sat, Sep 11, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Powell calls Darfur toll genocide

REQUIRED TO ACT Now that the US has called Sudan's conflict genocide, international law says it must act -- even if only by expanding an African Union peacekeeping force

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

US Secretary of State Colin Powell dramatically increased pressure on the Sudanese government on Thursday by declaring the killings and destruction in its Darfur region to be genocide.

Powell, directly blaming the Sudanese government, said: "This was a coordinated effort, not just random violence."

The US now has an obligation under international law to act. Labelling violence as genocide is relatively rare.

Powell's declaration follows a report from US state department investigators who spent five weeks taking evidence from 1,136 refugees attacked by the government-backed Janjaweed militia.

The British government, after sifting through the state department's evidence, reached a different conclusion.

A UK Foreign Office source said the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, while regarding the situation as dreadful, had not found incontrovertible evidence to justify calling it genocide.

Powell is to press the UN to set up an international commission "with a view to ensuring accountability." Straw, who discussed this with Powell, is backing the proposal.

Powell said: "I concluded that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility and that genocide may still be occurring."

The Sudanese government rejected the charge. Najeeb al-Khair Abdel-Wahab, the deputy foreign minister, said he expected the international community to assist, "not put oil on the fire."

The US and British governments have been reluctant to declare the destruction of lives and villages in Darfur to be genocide because of the international legal obligations and to avoid unnecessarily antagonizing the Sudanese government.

An estimated 40,000 people have been killed and 1.2 million have fled their homes as a result of the violence.

Genocide is defined under a law drawn up after World War II as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

Powell said the evidence corroborated the specific intent of perpetrators to destroy a "group in whole or part."

He said: "There is nobody prepared to send troops in there from the United States or the European Union or elsewhere to put it down in the sense of an imposition force."

The preferred option in Washington and London is to expand an African Union monitoring force already in Darfur.

The State Department report, released yesterday, said there was a "consistent and widespread pattern of atrocities committed against non-Arab villagers."

The report said: "Most respondents said government forces, militia fighters, or a combination of both, had completely destroyed their villages." It said 61 percent witnessed the killing of a family member, and 16 percent said they had been raped or had heard about a rape victim.

"About one-third of the ref-ugees heard racial epithets while under attack," it said.

The Sudanese government claims it is simplistic to portray the violence as between Arab Janjaweed and black African villagers, and blames much of the trouble on anti-government rebels in Darfur.

The UN security council is discussing a draft resolution on Darfur calling for an expanded African Union mandate.

The US and British governments will include in the draft the setting up of the international commission.

EU officials yesterday shared the British reluctance to use the word genocide.

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