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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 October 2007, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
West 'pandering to Darfur rebels'
Lakhdar Brahimi
Elder statesman Lakhdar Brahimi is a former UN envoy
One of a group of veteran statesmen visiting Sudan, Lakhdar Brahimi, has accused the West of pandering to unrepresentative Darfur rebel groups.

The former UN envoy spoke as Nigeria's army chief was in Sudan to repatriate the bodies of Nigerian soldiers killed when Darfuri rebels overran their post.

The group of elders have urged the international community to speed up the deployment of 26,000 peacekeepers.

But they say the violence does not meet the legal definition of genocide.

At a news conference to mark the end of their two-day visit, the group said Darfur was deeply divided, with violence and widespread rape ignored by the Sudanese authorities.

No genocide

"There is a legal definition of genocide and Darfur does not meet that legal standard. The atrocities were horrible but I do not think it qualifies to be called genocide," said former US President Jimmy Carter.

They also urged Khartoum to hand over war crimes suspects for trial at the International Criminal Court, notably Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs, Ahmad Harun, and the Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb.

THE ELDERS
Former US President Jimmy Carter
South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Former US President Jimmy Carter
Children's rights advocate Graca Machel
Veteran UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi

Mr Brahimi said peace talks planned later this month had raised a glimmer of hope.

But he said the situation for people in Darfur was dire and they too needed to be represented at the talks.

"The international community has acted rather irresponsibly on all this in the past by pampering a lot of these people around - not really wondering whether they really represented anybody and whether they were acting responsibly," said Mr Brahimi.

The group has now concluded a visit that took them from Khartoum to Juba in southern Sudan to discuss the shaky peace in force there, and then to El Fasher in Darfur from where they were able to visit some of the province's estimated 2m displaced people.

Peacekeepers essential

"It is quite clear to us that the crucial element to end the suffering of the people of Darfur is for the hybrid force to be deployed as soon as possible," Archbishop Tutu told reporters.

The African Union (AU) has some 7,000 troops deployed in Darfur as monitors, and their commander has admitted they are outmanned and outgunned by rebels who have splintered into many different groups.

AU troops in Darfur - 24/07/2007
The AU is reviewing its force's mandate to defend itself

A 26,000-strong hybrid force made up of both AU and United Nations forces called Unamid is meant to be in place by 2008 under the overall command of Nigerian General Martin Luther Agwai.

Ethiopia has just pledged 5,000 soldiers to Unamid.

The bulk of the forces currently in Darfur are from Nigeria and as the Elders were addressing their news conference, the bodies of the seven Nigerian soldiers killed when their outpost was overrun by rebels on Saturday, were being flown home.

The Nigerian Defence Ministry said the seven will be given a national burial in Abuja on Friday, to be attended by President Umaru Yar'Adua.

The bodies of the other three victims, from Botswana, Mali and Senegal will also be flown home for burial.

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