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Last Updated: Monday, 30 August, 2004, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
Sudan crisis being tackled - Benn
Village in Darfur
Darfur has been described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis
The Sudanese government is starting to address the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, International Development Secretary Hilary Benn has said.

He told Radio 4's Today the Sudanese government had been in denial but was now facing up to the situation.

A UN deadline for Sudan to show it is tackling the crisis expires on Monday.

The UN threatened action if Sudan fails to disarm pro-government militias blamed for killing thousands of civilians and forcing many to flee.

Some 50,000 people have been killed in fighting in the Darfur region and more than a million forced from their homes

Mr Benn said: "The situation has changed substantially and that is a result of huge international pressure."

He said it was vital the pressure was maintained, as the situation in Darfur remained serious.

He said progress was being made on the humanitarian front but security remained a key concern and it was vital that a political settlement was found.

DARFUR CONFLICT
map
More than 1m displaced
Up to 50,000 killed
More at risk from disease and starvation
Arab militias accused of ethnic cleansing
Sudan blames rebels for starting conflict

An Oxfam official told the BBC the rainy season would worsen a "very miserable" situation for refugees in Darfur's western region.

Peace talks aiming to reach a political deal are under way in the Nigerian capital Abuja, mediated by the African Union (AU).

Mr Benn said the international community was determined not to turn away from the suffering of the Sudanese people.

He said: "It's absolutely vital that the people of Darfur should feel the world community and countries of Africa are looking out for them and are going to take the steps that are necessary to ensure the conflict does come to an end."

He dismissed suggestions by shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram that the UK government had "gone on holiday" while suffering continued as unfair and untrue.

Britain was the second largest donor of aid to Sudan after the US, he said.

The conflict in Darfur began in early 2003, after a rebel group started attacking government targets, saying Sudan's black Africans were being discriminated against in favour of the country's Arab population.

Since then, pro-government Arab Janjaweed militias have been accused of ethnic cleansing in the region, killing thousands of civilians and forcing many to flee.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The world community has a duty to alleviate the abject suffering of the displaced people in Darfur
Pancha Chandra, Belgium

Last month the UN Security Council said the Sudanese government had 30 days to halt atrocities or face possible sanctions.

Sudan's government denies being in control of the militia, who President Omar al-Bashir has called "thieves and gangsters".

The Security Council is expected to debate the issue on Monday and hear a report by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Khartoum's compliance.

The international community is divided over what action should be taken.

Debates

Correspondents say the report may try to maintain a diplomatic stance because the UN needs a negotiating partner in the Sudanese government.

Sudanese government officials say they are confident they have done enough to meet the UN's demands.

But the two rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudanese Liberation Army, insist sanctions are necessary.

On Saturday the rebels staged a 24-hour walkout from the talks in protest at three days of alleged attacks by government forces and Arab Janjaweed militia.

The African Union has asked ceasefire monitors in Darfur to investigate the claims, which the Sudan government denies.


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