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UN must act in troubled Darfur-rights group

Written by: Staff
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NAIROBI, Mar 17 (Reuters) - The UN Security Council must ensure civilians in Sudan's troubled Darfur region are protected from more attacks and stop Khartoum from blocking deployment of a UN force there, a rights watchdog urged today.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said civilians continue to be attacked and terrorised in the western Sudan region, despite the presence of a 7,000-strong African Union (AU) force short of money and equipment.

Sudan says it does not want UN troops in Darfur until a peace agreement is reached there and any such action would spell the end of AU-mediated peace talks in Nigeria between Darfur rebels and the government.

''The Security Council must show the Sudanese government that enough is enough,'' Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, wrote in a letter to the council.

''Civilians in Darfur need protection now, not at some later date when it's politically convenient for Sudanese officials implicated in war crimes to accept it.'' The African Union voted last week to extend its mission until September. 30 but also affirmed in principle its intention to eventually hand off to a UN force.

Human Rights Watch said the Security Council needed to work toward establishing a UN operation there by October. 1, including technical planning and adopting a resolution authorising it.

''The Sudanese government is blocking a UN force because it fears a larger, better-equipped force might hinder its abusive agenda in Darfur,'' Takirambudde said.

The Security Council should order sanctions against senior government officials and extend an arms embargo throughout Sudan ''to prompt an immediate change of policy in Khartoum,'' he wrote.

The UN and Western leaders accuse Sudan of arming Arab militias that have raped, killed and driven some 2 million Darfur villagers into squalid camps.

Khartoum denies responsibility.

REUTERS DKS BST1506

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