Sudan should end military attacks and arrests: rights group

Sudan’s government should end military attacks on civilians in the western region of Darfur and carry through on reforms it promised as part of the north- south peace agreement in 2005, Human Rights Watch said.
The New York-based rights group today accused the Sudanese authorities of stifling the opposition, arresting civil rights activists, and manipulating tribal conflicts in Southern Sudan. Khartoum`s policies threaten to undermine the success of general elections next April and Southern Sudan`s referendum on self- determination in 2011, Human Rights Watch said.
The group urged an international conference on Sudan being held today and tomorrow in Moscow, attended by United Nations, African Union and US officials, to press Sudan to carry out judicial and policy reforms as “a matter of urgent priority.”
“The government should immediately end attacks on civilians in Darfur, charge or release people it has arrested arbitrarily, and end harassment of civil society activists,” Human Rights Watch said today in an e-mailed statement.
In Darfur, clashes between pro-government forces and rebels, along with tribal fighting, banditry and disease, have killed about 300 000 people, according to United Nations estimates. The rebels took up arms against the government in 2003 accusing it of neglecting the region. The government puts the death toll at about 10 000.
Darfur Clashes
President Umar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for responsibility for war crimes in Darfur, called the war in the region a “limited ethnic conflict” and accused outsiders of exaggerating it, during an Oct. 1 speech to his ruling National Congress Party.
Human Rights Watch accused the Sudanese armed forces of attacking civilians in villages in Darfur indiscriminately, killing about 16 civilians when they clashed last month with rebels around the town of Korma in North Darfur.
“The use of indiscriminate bombings demonstrates that the war is not over,” it said.
Opposition parties meeting last week in Juba, capital of the semi-autonomous region of Southern Sudan, threatened to boycott the elections if the Sudanese government doesn`t act before Nov. 30 to repeal laws that include restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly.
Bashir, in a speech to parliament yesterday, promised that the elections next year would be free and fair.
“Sudan is at a crossroads,” Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement. “It can either make good on its promises or allow the situation to deteriorate further with its repressive practices.”

Pic: President Omar al- Bashir of Sudan