Eliane Engeler / Associated Press – 2008-03-25 09:42:34
GENEVA (March 21, 2008) — The United Nations’ human rights chief accused the Sudanese army Thursday of looting towns and raping girls and women during attacks it carried out in West Darfur with the help of Arab militias.
The Feb. 8 attacks on Sirba, Sileia and Abu Suruj, made with helicopter gunships and fixed-wing aircraft, killed at least 115 people and caused 30,000 to flee their homes, Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in a report.
“The scale of destruction … suggests that the damage was a deliberate and integral part of a military strategy,” the nine-page report said.
The United Nations said its concerns were ignored in discussions with the governor of West Darfur. Other government officials denied collusion between the army and the Janjaweed militia.
If soldiers committed rights violations, “such acts were committed by individuals and were not in pursuit of a government policy,” the report quoted senior Darfur officials as saying.
Swaths of Abu Suruj and Sileia were burned when militia on camels and horses joined the Sudanese army in attacking the towns. Some residents were burned alive inside their homes, including a 75-year-old blind woman and a disabled girl, the report said.
The Sudanese military has said it bombed the towns while striking at rebel forces. Darfur rebels denied any of their fighters were present.
Witnesses told UN experts that rapes and other acts of sexual violence were committed during and after the attacks. That has been a continuing theme of the five-year Darfur conflict.
Fighting has raged since ethnic African tribesmen took up arms in 2003, complaining of decades of neglect and discrimination by Sudan’s Arab-dominated government. Khartoum has been accused of unleashing Janjaweed fighters to commit atrocities against ethnic African communities in the battle with rebel groups. At least 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict.
Arbour’s report said there were “strong indications” that members of the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, raped women and girls in Sirba, 30 miles north of West Darfur’s capital, El Geneina.
“One eyewitness reported that she witnessed four girls being escorted to an abandoned hut and raped at gunpoint by a group of soldiers belonging to the SAF,” the report said.
It said men on camels and horses shot indiscriminately at Sirba’s residents and systematically torched and looted homes.
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