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Atrocities Continue in Sudan, Watch Group Says

Human Rights Watch said that rapes and atrocities are continuing in Darfur, western Sudan, and that the government's claim that it is acting to stop the violence is not credible.

The report, to be released Wednesday, is the second this week by an international rights group. Amnesty International on Monday called on the government of Sudan to stop arrests and intimidation of people for telling foreign delegations about the violence. It cited at least 47 cases, including men who spoke to Secretary of State Colin Powell during his June visit.

Stepping up criticism of Sudan, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, on a visit to the region, described the terror campaign in Darfur as genocide. At a news conference today, he rejected a European Union finding this week that genocide was not unfolding.

Sudanese Foreign Minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, said Monday the U.N. estimates that 30,000 to 50,000 had died were grossly inflated and that 5,000 died, including 486 police. Hundreds of thousands of refugees need food and medicine.

"There is a humanitarian, security and political problem in Darfur as a result of the war that was started by the rebels for political reasons," Ismail told reporters in Cairo.

Facing what it has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis, the U.N. has given the Sudanese government a 30-day deadline to show it is serious about disarming the so-called "Janjaweed" militias accused of atrocities in Darfur, after which measures like sanctions could be imposed.

But both Frist and the Human Rights Watch report, released today on an embargo basis, expressed doubts about whether the international pressure would prompt the Sudanese government to take action.

"Unless the government of Sudan acts, sanctions will not be sufficient. The government of Sudan can simply operate without the impact of those sanctions being felt," said Frist. The senator visited Sudan, but not Darfur.

"To date, while humanitarian access has improved significantly since April 2004, progress in the areas of human rights, security and political resolution remains minimal to nonexistent," the report said. "If the Sudanese government were serious about protecting civilians, it would welcome an increased international presence to help it stop the violence."

Human Rights Watch reported that sexual violence continued daily, quoting testimony of women who said they were raped, stripped or whipped in June and July. It cited reports of a case when several victims of the Janjaweed were shackled together and burned to death.

In other findings Human Rights Watch expressed concern that some militias which might have committed atrocities were being integrated into police and security forces supposed protect displaced people in camps and that some of the Janjaweed tried and convicted appeared to be common criminals, not militias guilty of atrocities.

It expressed alarm about a Sudanese government plan agreed with the U.N. to set up "safe areas" for displaced persons, suggesting that these could mean that they were housed indefinitely in areas with very poor facilities.

"The prospect of this resettlement plan and the notion of safe areas raises the concern that rather than being enabled to return to their homes and lands in safety and dignity, displaced civilians will be forced to remain in camps or permanently resettled in locations, effectively consolidating the ethnic cleansing that has taken place and further destroying their livelihoods," it said.

Amnesty International Monday called on the Sudanese government to release people arrested for speaking to foreign delegations and ensure that anyone in Darfur could speak about the crisis without fear.

"Security services or the Sudanese army reportedly arrested at least 47 people between June 26 and August 3, mostly after these people spoke to members of foreign delegations. Among them are 15 men from the Abu Shawq camp, near El Fasher, who were arrested by national security officers following U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to the camp on June 30," the agency said in a statement.

Frist suggested that giving the Sudan government more time to disarm militias responsible for the atrocities would only hurt the Darfur refugees and displaced people suffering from the violence.

"What is going on in Darfur is genocide. I disagree with the statement made by the European Union," Frist said. "I don't think it takes 60 days or even 30 days (to disarm militias). Giving them extra days to pursue their policy just contributes to this tragedy, only hurts refugees."

The U.S. Congress and Senate passed resolutions last month declaring genocide was underway in Darfur, while human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have not used the term, describing instead "ethnic cleansing." The State Department is investigating.

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