Protesters call for UN to end the crisis in Darfur

CAUSE CELEBRE: Actors, models, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and playwright Tom Stoppard were among those calling for a solution

AP , LONDON

Tue, Sep 18, 2007 - Page 6

Protesters held demonstrations in several countries on Sunday to urge world leaders and the UN General Assembly to work harder to end the crisis in Darfur.

In London, hundreds of activists took part, many donning black blindfolds to symbolize the international community's failure to act since vowing to stop atrocities in Darfur two years ago.

Demonstrators in Rome wore white T-shirts with a bloodstained hand on the front and marched to the Italian city's central Piazza Farnese. They carried a peace torch, which they said was lit in Chad, where hundreds of thousands from Darfur now live in refugee camps.

In Belgium, a few dozen people demonstrated outside the Palace of Justice in Brussels.

Organizers -- who planned protests in more than 30 countries, including Australia, Egypt, Germany, Japan, Mongolia, Nigeria, South Africa and the US -- said some in the international community had become complacent since the UN Security Council approved plans on July 31 for a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force for the vast, war-battered region in western Sudan.

The deployment of the joint African Union-UN peacekeeping force faces delays, however, due to a lack of aviation, transport and logistics units, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said.

The UN General Assembly and world leaders planned to discuss the Darfur crisis at their meeting this week in New York.

More than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been uprooted since ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in 2003, accusing it of decades of neglect. Sudan's government is accused of retaliating by unleashing a militia of Arab nomads known as the janjaweed -- a charge it denies.

Activists say Darfur's violence is increasing, and they are demanding the peacekeeping force be deployed swiftly, and that the international community pressure all sides in the conflict to end the violence.

"The world has acknowledged the atrocities in Darfur. And its leaders have promised to end them. Now they must fulfill that promise," said Colleen Connors from Globe for Darfur, a coalition of aid groups working in Darfur.

"The meeting of world leaders in the next two weeks is a critical juncture for the people of Darfur," she said. "We simply cannot afford to look away now."

In London, protesters marched from the Sudanese Embassy near St. James's Park to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's 10 Downing St. office, waving signs reading "Stop genocide in Darfur" and "Rape, torture, murder. How much longer for Darfur?"

Britain's newly appointed Africa Minister Lord Malloch Brown, who recently visited Sudan, said in a speech that while Darfur's large number of killings has declined, the situation there remains dire.

"If you are a woman, child or male civilian, it seems every bit as dangerous today as two years ago. There is no more certainty that there will be a political solution," he said.

Playwright Tom Stoppard, who joined the demonstration, said: "I'm here today I think for the same reason as everybody else, to have one more body supporting what is really one of the most important junctures of the whole Darfur story so far."

Actors Matt Damon, Don Cheedle, supermodel Elle MacPherson and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu are among the celebrities who appear in a video filmed for the day in which they hold up slogans demanding action.