IRIDIMI CAMP, Chad -- UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited Sudanese refugees at a desert camp in Chad yesterday and promised to press President Omar el-Bashir of Sudan on commitments to end violence that has chased more than 1 million people from their homes in the embattled Darfur region.
Sudanese officials have pledged to improve security in Darfur and disarm all armed groups, but Annan said, ''We need to have a sense that the government is really serious about protecting the people so that they feel secure and go home.
''I'm going to be speaking to the president tonight, but even after that we are going to be monitoring" Darfur, Annan said before arriving at Iridimi Camp, where about 15,000 people are seeking shelter. ''I think you need to pull them along to cooperate."
UN officials and human rights groups have accused the Sudanese government of backing Arab militias engaged in a campaign to violently expel African farmers from the vast region.
UN officials have called the situation the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, and Annan has said it ''is bordering on ethnic cleansing."
Many Sudanese who have fled tell the same story: airplanes dropping bombs and raiders on horseback who burn, kill, and loot.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than a million forced from their homes, most taking shelter in makeshift camps with little access to clean water or proper sanitation.
The Sudanese government denies any complicity in the militia attacks and says the warring sides are clashing over land and scarce water resources.
The UN children's agency in Geneva said yesterday that many young people from Darfur either had been victims of violence or scarred by witnessing violent acts, including rape and murder.
''I spoke with scores of children, who simply tell what they have seen -- infants shot in front of them, parents gunned down in fields, mothers raped . . . and people being forced to run for their lives with nothing," said Dan Toole, UNICEF's director of emergency operations.