Fri, Sep 08, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Sudan bombing civilians, rights group says

AGENCIES , CAIRO AND UNITED NATIONS

The Sudanese government is indiscriminately bombing civilian-occupied villages in rebel-held Darfur, a leading human rights group has said.

Sudanese government forces on Aug. 28 launched a major offensive believed to involve thousands of troops backed up by bomber aircraft and helicopter gunships in a bid to flush out rebel strongholds in the troubled western region.

"Government forces are bombing villages with blatant disregard for civilian lives," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

"A penalty for indiscriminate bombing in Darfur is UN Security Council sanctions, which should be imposed now," he said.

Human Rights Watch said that firsthand sources report flight crews rolling bombs out the back ramps of Antonovs, a means of targeting that was often practiced by government forces in their 21-year civil war with rebels in southern Sudan.

This method is so inaccurate that it cannot strike at military targets without a substantial risk of harm to civilians, the New York-based rights group said in a statement posted on its Web site late on Wednesday.

"Deliberately attacking civilians is in all circumstances prohibited and a war crime," it added.

Sudan has said it would send some 10,000 troops to Darfur, in the west of the country, to fight rebel groups that had not signed a peace agreement in May.

According to international observers in northern Darfur where the offensive is taking place, a woman was killed and seven children were wounded last week in Hassan, 5km southeast of Kulkul, when a bomb was dropped on her house, Human Rights Watch said.

Sudan earlier this week said it would expel African Union (AU) peacekeepers in Darfur if they insist on transferring their mission to the UN when the AU mandate expires at the end of the month.

The understaffed and cash-starved AU force of 7,000 troops has been unable to halt the violence in Darfur, a vast region the size of France, since a conflict began in 2003.

The conflict erupted when non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government.

In response, the government mobilized Arab militias known as Janjaweed, who have been accused of murder, rape and looting.

In the past few months, various rebel groups and bandits have committed similar atrocities.

Fighting, disease and hunger have killed some 200,000 people and driven 2.5 million into squalid camps.

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