LONDON -- Sudan's government is gutting its pledge to improve security in the embattled Darfur region by barring international aid and taking militias blamed for atrocities into the police forces rather than disarming them, Human Rights Watch said early today. The United Nations said Sudan carried out fresh helicopter attacks in the region and Arab militia targeted refugees trying to escape the conflict.
The report from Human Rights Watch said Sudanese troops and government-backed militias of Arab nomads continue to attack the region's African farm communities, killing, raping, and stealing with impunity.
"The Sudanese government insists that it is taking significant measures, but the continuing atrocities in Darfur prove that Khartoum's claims simply aren't credible," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director for Human Rights Watch's Africa Division.
"If the government were serious about wanting to protect civilians, it would welcome a greater international presence," he added.
The press office at the Sudanese Embassy in London said that it had not seen the report and that the ambassador, Hasan Abdin, was unavailable for comment.
On Aug. 3, the Sudanese government signed an agreement with the United Nations giving it 30 days to establish safe havens for African farmers under attack in Darfur.
Sudan's foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, said he was confident the government could implement the plan on time and restore stability to Darfur, where UN officials estimate more than 30,000 people have been slain and 1 million chased from their homes.
"We are now optimistic that we can go through this phase, depending on cooperation instead of conflict," Ismail told reporters in Khartoum, Sudan's capital. "The implementation will take place in a transparent fashion."
However, a UN official in Geneva said yesterday that Arab militias in Darfur, known as the Janjaweed, were continuing attacks -- even using helicopter gunships.
"There was some helicopter fighting, and because of that fighting more people were displaced," said Elizabeth Byrs of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
And Amnesty International said yesterday that Sudan's government is pressing people not to report human rights abuses in Darfur. Authorities have arrested 49 people since June 30 for speaking out about abuses in the region, the London-based rights group said.
The region's nomadic Arab tribes have long been at odds with their African farming neighbors over dwindling resources, particularly water and usable land, and Darfur plunged into bloodshed when two African groups rebelled in February 2003.
Since then, armed bands, most of them Arabs, have torched village after village. The US Agency for International Development has warned that the death toll could surge to 350,000 or more if aid doesn't reach some 2 million people soon.
A UN Security Council resolution on July 30 demanded that Sudan's government improve security, human rights, and humanitarian assistance in Darfur and speed up a political resolution of the conflict. It also imposed a deadline of Aug. 30 for the disarmament of the Janjaweed.
However, Human Rights Watch said the Sudanese government appears to be backtracking on that timeline and also is beginning to absorb Janjaweed fighters into the police and other security forces.
"Incorporating the Janjaweed militias into the security services and then deploying them to protect civilian 'safe areas' is the height of absurdity," Takirambudde said. "The Sudanese government needs to bring war criminals to justice, not recruit them into positions of responsibility."