updated 11/3/2004 6:20:14 PM ET 2004-11-03T23:20:14

There are strong indications of war crimes “on a large and systematic scale” in Darfur and violence is worsening in the western Sudanese region where 2 million people have now been affected by the conflict, the top U.N. envoy to Sudan said Wednesday.

Jan Pronk, in a report to the U.N. Security Council, accused Sudan’s government of failing to “end impunity” and bring the perpetrators of widespread killings, rapes, looting and village burnings to justice.

“There are strong indications that war crimes and crimes against humanity have occurred in Darfur on a large and systematic scale,” Pronk said.

The violence in Darfur began in February 2003 when two black African rebel groups took up arms over alleged unjust treatment by the Sudanese government and ethnic Arab countrymen. Pro-government militias called Janjaweed reacted by unleashing attacks on villages.

The Bush administration says the Janjaweed are largely responsible for an ethnic cleansing campaign. The United States and the United Nations are urging the government to curb the militias, but the government denies backing the Janjaweed and blames the rebels. The conflict has killed at least 70,000 people.

Refugee camp action condemned
On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department accused the Sudanese government of violating U.N. principles and resolutions by forcibly removing thousands of displaced people in Darfur from a camp where they had taken refuge, and urged they be returned. Pronk made a similar appeal Tuesday.

An African Union official said Wednesday that Sudanese security forces had bulldozed the camp after forcing thousands of refugees to another camp.

But a Sudanese minister denied that the refugees in El Geer camp near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, had been relocated against their will, saying they were taken to another camp so they could get better services. Pronk, however, said the camp to which they were moved was less desirable.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher also appealed for the withdrawal of Sudanese forces surrounding some camps for Darfur refugees and urged the government to let humanitarian workers return to the region.

“We stand with the international community in holding the government of Sudan responsible for the violations, and we request immediate return of all displaced persons back to the camp at El Geer where they were moved from,” Boucher said, adding the United States is concerned about the safety of civilians generally in Darfur.

Pronk is expected to present his report to the Security Council on Thursday.

Afraid to return home
In the report, Pronk found that security conditions in Darfur deteriorated in October, cease-fire violations increased on both sides, violence escalated and “towards the end of the month, the threat of large-scale attacks has increased considerably.”

Until the government starts taking more than “pinprick” action against perpetrators, he said, no displaced person will dare return home and no group will agree to disarm.

He cited reports pointing to attempts by armed men to hide evidence of mass killings.

“Without an end to impunity ... banditry goes from strength to strength, menacing the population and obstructing the delivery of aid to desperate people in isolated areas,” Pronk said.

An international commission appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan began work on Oct. 25 and has three months to study human rights violations and determine whether a genocide occurred in Darfur. The Bush administration has already labeled it a genocide.

The estimate of people in Darfur affected by the conflict rose from 1.8 million on Sept. 1 to 2 million on Oct. 1, and is expected to keep rising through the end of the year, Pronk said. The increase stems mainly from the growing number of displaced people, now 1.6 million, seeking refuge from the fighting and insecurity, Pronk said.

“A further 400,000 people are currently assessed to be affected by the conflict and in need of humanitarian assistance,” he said.

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