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Humanitarian crisis in Africa

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will fly to Sudan on Monday to press the government to end the humanitarian crisis engulfing the western region of Darfur. Officials say Straw will urge Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir to rein in and bring to justice Arab militias accused of killing and raping black African farmers and destroying their villages. The United Nations Security Council has given Khartoum until Aug 30 to disarm the militias or face diplomatic and economic penalties. Straw will also encourage the government to reach a political settlement with two African rebel groups, at peace talks scheduled to be held in Nigeria on Monday. “The roots of this crisis are deep and complicated, but we are all clear that only a political solution will fix them,” said a senior Foreign Office official, on customary condition of anonymity. “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.” The United Nations says Darfur has become the scene of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since African rebels rose against the government in February 2003, claiming discrimination in the distribution of scarce resources. Straw is scheduled to meet with el-Bashir, Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail during the two day visit. He will also visit the Abu Shouk camp, near the city of Al Fashir, which is home to some 57,000 refugees. There he plans to visit the headquarters of the African Union, which has some 80 observers on the ground, protected by 150 Rwandan troops, to monitor the rarely adhered to April 8 cease-fire. Britain gave 2 million pounds (US$3.6 million) to help fund the mission and is trying to encourage further international support, informs Daily Times. According to Reuters, Sudan said it had imprisoned some Darfur militia and police for crimes including rape, the first admission that government security forces have committed human rights abuses there, a Khartoum daily said on Sunday. The al-Ray al-Am newspaper said Sudanese Justice Minister Ali Mohamed Osman Yassin assured the U.N. Human Rights Commission's international observer Emanuel Akoy that the government did not tolerate human rights violations. The paper added: "Two members of the People's Defence Force (PDF) accused of rape are currently in prison, as well as two policemen accused of taking part in burning some villages." The PDF are official militia in Darfur where revolt broke out after years of conflict between Arab nomads and African farmers over scarce resources. Rebel groups say Khartoum has used armed Arab Janjaweed militia to loot and burn villages, a charge the government denies. The minister also gave the U.N. observer a list of prisoners accused of being members of the Janjaweed, a term derived from the Arabic for "devils on horseback," the report said. Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said on Sunday that the government planned to disarm some of the PDF. Two groups launched a revolt in Darfur last year and the U.N. says the fighting has sparked the world's worst humanitarian crisis with about 200,000 refugees in neighbouring Chad and more than one million displaced inside Sudan. VAONews reports that Rebel delegates from Sudan's western Darfur region have arrived in Nigeria for talks with Sudanese officials on ending violence sparked by a rebel uprising 18 months ago. The African Union is hosting the talks set to begin Monday, with representatives of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement and Justice and Equality Movement. Officials at Sudan's embassy in Nigeria say a government team led by the nation's Agriculture Minister Magzoub al-Khalifa was due to arrive later today. Last month, talks between the two sides collapsed after Sudan's government rejected a set of conditions from rebels. Darfur rebels have accused Khartoum of backing Arab militias to help end a rebel uprising in the area. The government denies giving support to the militias, which are blamed for atrocities against civilians.

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