Straw trip adds to pressure on Sudan

Posted in Other , Africa | 23-Aug-04 | Author: Ewen MacAskill| Source: Guardian

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Britain calls for action as UN says 600 die each day in Darfur

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, is due to arrive in Khartoum today to add to the diplomatic pressure on the Sudanese government to stop the suffering of its people in the Darfur region.

The latest UN estimate is that 600 people a day are dying, despite a huge international relief effort.

Although the British government officially does not rule out western military intervention, London wants the African Union to increase its monitoring force from 420 to 3,000, and widen its mandate.

The UN security council has set a deadline of August 30 for the Sudanese government to rein in the Arab Janjaweed militia largely held responsible for the killing and flight of African villagers from their land. But the council is divided and its likeliest response at present is a further month's extension.

Mr Straw is due to see the Sudanese foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, tonight, and visit one of the biggest refugee camps in Darfur, Abu Shouk, tomorrow.

About 1.2 million people have fled their homes in the face of attacks by the Janjaweed.

A British official said the crisis had been exacerbated by the slow start of the aid operation and its initial obstruction by the Sudanese government.

"We are not in as good a position as we would have liked to be," he said. The UN says food aid is getting to only about 65% of those in need.

Another British official said that it was difficult to know whether the Sudanese had done enough to avoid UN sanctions. It had taken some steps, but in other areas there was no evidence that it was trying to comply with the requirements set by the UN security council.

As a compromise, Khartoum gave the UN an undertaking at the weekend that the refugees would be not be forced to return to their homes.

The refugees have been protesting that the Sudanese security forces have been trying to round them up and take them back to villages still under threat from Arab militia.

Mr Straw will remind the Sudanese government of a series of promises it has made to the UN general secretary, Kofi Annan, and will say that it is time to honour them. He will express concern that it has failed to make a significant effort to deal with the Janjaweed.

A British official said: "I don't think we are yet seeing compelling evidence that known perpetrators within the reach of the government of Sudan are being brought to justice, and that is clearly something that we do want to see."

Nor was the Sudanese government guaranteeing security in and around the refugee camps, the official said. On the plus side, however, it had significantly eased restrictions on access to Darfur by aid agencies.

Although Tony Blair has hinted that Britain may be prepared to intervene militarily, neither the US nor the EU intends to send troops, and Britain is equally reluctant.

Instead, the UK is banking on the African Union, which sent about 150 Rwandan soldiers to Darfur last week in support of 120 monitors. Some 150 troops from Nigeria are due to join them this week. Nigeria has suggested a figure of 3,000 AU monitors. The UK government would like to see troops sent from Arab North Africa as well, which would be more acceptable to Sudan's Arabic-speaking government.