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Probe into Sudan genocide claims



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(CNN) -- A U.N. fact-finding team is set to travel to Sudan's Darfur region to investigate claims of genocide by Arab militias against black African residents.

Violence in the country's oil-rich Darfur region has raged for more than a year, displacing as many as one million people inside Sudan and forcing over 110,000 into neighboring Chad, according to U. N. estimates.

Rebel groups accuse Sudan's government of arming Arab militia groups to carry out attacks.

Many refugees fleeing the violence allege the militias are carrying out serious widespread abuses that amount to crimes against humanity, rape, arbitrary and racial killings as well as the destruction of homes and civilian areas.

Earlier this month, Sudan's government and two main rebel groups signed a temporary cease-fire agreement to allow humanitarian aid into the war-ravaged western region of the country.

U.S. President George Bush has demanded Sudan's government end mass fighting with rebels, calling the nation's civil war "one of the worst humanitarian tragedies of our time."

U.N. human rights investigators have spent days trying to get into Darfur but Sudan had initially refused access.

However, permission has now been granted and the five-member team left Geneva Tuesday, arriving in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, on Wednesday.

The team has already interviewed Darfur refugees in Chad, who have raised "serious allegations of a troubling nature," according to a statement from the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Earlier this month, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland reported an organized, "scorched-earth" policy of ethnic cleansing in Darfur.

Egeland said there were credible and frequent reports that Janjaweed militias, which are Arab and allied to the Sudanese Government, had committed atrocities -- including murders, rapes and acts of looting and destruction -- against local black Africans, especially members of the Fur, Zaghawas and Massalit ethnic communities.

A British journalist who managed to cross the border into Darfur by wearing a disguise, told CNN earlier this month that he witnessed evidence of genocide in the region, including "hastily dug graves and a pile of bodies" in the village of Tadera.

"What I saw was village after village which has been burnt down," Phil Cox said on CNN's International Correspondents program.

"Usually there are bodies around the villages. There are mass graves outside. When I say mass graves, I mean large pits in the earth, maybe 10 to 20 bodies in them, and these pits, 20 to 30 pits around the villages."

Cox said he uncovered recordings of Sudanese bomber pilots ordering attacks on civilian villages.

"I have interviewed Sudanese government soldiers, who were told to attack villages and when they got there they only found civilians." Cox said.

"I have interviewed the refugees and civilians from these villages who testified to this."

After extensive reporting in the region, Cox said he has "come to the conclusion that the Sudanese government have a systematic intention of removing many black Africans from Darfur by violent means."

On the heels of the 10th anniversary since the Rwanda genocide left nearly a million people dead in 100 days, Cox said not much has changed.

"The world is not dealing with this. We know it is happening. Ignorance is not an excuse now. And in the light of these commemorations and talk about Rwanda, it comes as increasingly double standards again by the international community," he said.


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