Rising death toll in Sudan

Nearly a year after the U.N. described Darfur as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, starvation and disease are growing, and the deadlock on sanctions continues.

By Ewen MacAskill - Jeevan Vasagar
March 16, 2005 7:33PM (UTC)
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More than 180,000 people have died from hunger and disease during the last 18 months of the Darfur conflict, the United Nations said Tuesday, as negotiations continued at its New York headquarters to break the deadlock on a new Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on the Sudanese government.

Brian Grogan, a spokesman for Jan Egeland, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, said an average 10,000 Sudanese civilians were dying each month, much higher than earlier estimates. They were victims mainly of starvation or of disease in refugee camps after being driven from their villages by Sudanese soldiers and government-backed Janjaweed militiamen. The estimates exclude those killed in the fighting.

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Khartoum accused the U.N. of producing the figures as a ploy to get the Security Council to take action against Sudan, and demanded evidence to back up the numbers. Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said: "Jan Egeland was here -- I met him [and] he never mentioned this number." Egeland said last week that an estimate of 70,000 was too low, but did not indicate what he regarded as a more realistic figure.

Nearly a year after the U.N. described Darfur as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, there is no sign the scorched-earth campaign against black African villages is over. Hundreds of new refugees are flooding into overcrowded camps, such as the giant settlement at Kalma in south Darfur, which housed fewer than 10,000 people this time last year but now houses 100,000.

Sally Austin, assistant country director for the aid agency Care, said: "When I was there last, three weeks ago, we were seeing between 200 and 250 people arriving per day in two sectors [of the camp] where we work. The new refugees are queueing just to be able to get plastic sheeting to build temporary shelters. They are having to queue to get on food distribution lists -- not just queueing for food. We are also seeing people building more permanent structures out of mud, which I think is a sign that people realize they are going to be there another nine months."

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Nearly 2 million black Africans have been driven from their homes in Darfur since the war began, and a further 200,000 have crossed into Chad. Two years of war have transformed Darfur into a landscape of refugee camps -- swaths of ghostly, deserted villages and roving armed bands.

The United States, which describes the war as genocide, is pushing for measures that will target individuals accused of major crimes, mainly in the Sudanese military, government and Janjaweed but also in rebel groups.

The U.N. Security Council failed to reach agreement on a new resolution last week. The U.S. blamed Russia and China for blocking a proposal to introduce limited sanctions. Others on the Security Council blamed the U.S. because of its objection to referring the perpetrators to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The U.S., which opposes the ICC, has suggested that the perpetrators face a special tribunal in Africa.

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The British government remains hopeful that a compromise can be reached by the end of the week. Rick Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., this week described as preposterous a report in the Guardian last week that the United States might allow reference to the ICC to go through.

A British source said Tuesday such a compromise remained a possibility, though hopes were beginning to diminish. The U.S. would need a cast-iron guarantee that its immunity from the ICC would not be affected, the source said.

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China, which imports oil from Sudan and has up to 5,000 expatriates working there, opposes an oil embargo but is almost ready for a travel ban and an assets freeze on the main perpetrators.


Ewen MacAskill

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