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Annan appeals for help before visit to Sudan

Says world must pressure Khartoum on violence in Darfur

By Jonathan Wald CNN

Colin Powell
Kofi Annan

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- While preparing for a visit to Sudan, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan pleaded with the Sudanese government and international community Friday to help stop the military conflict in the western Darfur region.

"The most sacred responsibility of any government is to protect its people against the kind of crimes that have been committed in Darfur. The international community must hold it to that responsibility," Annan told reporters

"I have repeatedly appealed to President [Omar el-] Bashir of Sudan to make it easier for humanitarian workers to reach the population," Annan said. "Entry of supplies and equipment, including trucks, must be facilitated, threats against humanitarian workers must cease, and delays in registering [nongovernmental organizations] or granting them visas must also be removed."

U.N. officials say militias supported by the government have committed numerous human rights abuses, including raping and killing civilians, destroying water sources, looting, and burning buildings and crops.

Jan Egeland, the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, warned the Security Council this month that a coordinated "scorched-earth" campaign of ethnic cleansing was taking place in Darfur.

Annan's trip to Sudan coincides with a visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell, the first by a secretary of state to Sudan since 1978. Speaking to reporters Thursday in Washington, Powell described the situation in Sudan as "a catastrophe."

"It is incumbent on the international community to come together solidly to do everything we can to bring it to an end," Powell said.

Annan said he will work with Powell and put pressure on the Sudanese government to halt the atrocities.

"These are universal crimes, so the perpetrators ought to be put on notice that they will be held accountable, whoever they are," Annan said. "It is not just the field commanders, but also some of the leaders who are giving the orders, who may also be held accountable."

A State Department official said "a high-level, interagency meeting" dealing with a potential Security Council resolution on the Darfur crisis took place Thursday in Washington.

The conflict in Darfur began last year when rebels attacked government property, accusing the government of neglecting mostly black Darfur in favor of the country's Arab population.

The government responded by setting up Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, to put down the rebellion. The warring factions recently agreed to a cease-fire, but violence between them has continued.

Several international human rights groups estimate that 15,000 to 30,000 civilians have died in Darfur since fighting broke out in February 2003.

Annan and Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, have described the Darfur conflict as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

According to U.N. and U.S. officials, more than a million people have been displaced by the hostilities. Speaking about disease and malnutrition in the Darfur region, Natsios said "even in a best-case scenario, under optimal conditions, we could see as many as 320,000 people die."

Annan's trip will include parts of the Middle East, Africa and Europe. He is to fly to Qatar, then arrive Wednesday in Sudan. During his stay there, he is to visit a refugee camp in Darfur and meet with Sudanese President Bashir in Khartoum. Annan is also scheduled to travel to Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Thailand and Austria.

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