African Leaders Oppose Sanctions Against Sudan

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15pm EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - As a deadline approaches for a decision on whether sanctions should be imposed on Sudan over the Darfur crisis, the African Union has made its position clear, warning that sanctions would be a "real disaster."

Aid agencies, meanwhile, say the situation remains serious, with people fleeing the fighting in the western Sudanese region still crossing the border into neighboring Chad.

The United Nations estimates that 50,000 people have died as a result of the conflict since early last year, and some one million people have already been displaced.

A U.N. fact-finding mission is now in Darfur to assess whether Sudan's government is keeping its pledge to improve security for people in the region.

If the findings are unsatisfactory, the U.N., United States and European Union could impose sanctions at the end of August.

U.N. special envoy Jan Pronk said Sudan had taken some positive steps but warned that the "responsibility is for the authorities in Khartoum not only to make promises but to implement the promises."

"If not, the international community has to consider what is necessary," Pronk said.

The African Union (AU), however, believes sanctions will reduce the chances of a peaceful settlement in the conflict, which erupted in February 2003 between government-supported Arab militias and two black African rebel groups.

Through its chairman, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the African body said the continent's leaders could effectively handle the crisis.

"[Sanctions] would be a great disaster to Sudan, the government, the people and indeed for Africa," Obasanjo said in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, during peace talks between Khartoum and the rebels.

The two rebel groups, Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army, say they are fighting for political and economic equity for their region.

Obasanjo said Khartoum had asked the AU to provide troops to help the process of disarming and garrisoning the rebels.

Also discussed at the Abuja talks was the need to prioritize humanitarian assistance, especially to women and children.

According to the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctor Without Borders), there has been no reduction in the number of cases of malnutrition and disease it is handling in Darfur.

MSF said its therapeutic and supplementary feeding centers were treating a weekly average of some 10,000 malnourished children.

The U.S. State Department earlier said a team of monitors was in Chad to investigate whether attacks on refugees by government-backed militiamen amounts to genocide.

A preliminary U.S. report said the militias had engaged in a consistent and widespread pattern of atrocities.

Human rights group Amnesty International has accused Khartoum of arresting people who have been providing outsiders with information pointing to whether the government's commitments were being fulfilled.

"Instead of arresting those who commit human rights violations, the Sudanese authorities are arresting those who are exposing the perpetrators," said the group's secretary-general, Irene Khan.

Amnesty International reported that at least 25 people had been arrested in North Darfur state between July 15 and August 3, allegedly for giving information on rights abuses and ceasefire violations to members of the AU Ceasefire Commission.

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