AL-FASHER, Sudan – Sudan, awaiting word on whether it will be sanctioned by the international community, hopes for a "reasonable decision" from the U.N. Security Council (search), the foreign minister said Monday, the U.N.-imposed deadline for quelling violence in its western Darfur (search) provinces.
Mustafa Osman Ismail's remarks came as a U.S. State Department (search) official made a firsthand American assessment of conditions for thousands of people displaced by fighting between Sudanese and rebel forces and by attacks from Arab militiamen known as Janajaweed.
The visit by Constance Berry Newman, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, follows tours by U.N. teams who report Tuesday to Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) on whether the government is doing all it can to rein in the Janjaweed, who are blamed for killing and raping black African villagers and for driving more than 1 million people from their homes.
The Security Council will meet Sept. 2 and consider whether to follow through with its threat of unspecified action against Khartoum. The United States has advocated sanctions against the government.
Dennis McNamara, a senior official in the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, told reporters in Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday that attacks on civilians have continued in Darfur and too little has been done to stem the humanitarian crisis.
Women and girls still are being raped by militiamen as they leave camps to collect firewood, McNamara said. The government hasn't done enough to stop the attacks, he said.
"There remains constant, regular pressure — sometimes harassment by the authorities -- in various locations in Darfur on displaced populations to go back to insecure villages of origin," McNamara said.
Ismail, the Sudanese foreign minister, said he hoped the U.N. Security Council would "come out with a reasonable decision that will help us to continue working together." He did not directly threaten to end cooperation with the United Nations if Khartoum disagrees with the decision.
"Of course we are concerned," Ismail told Associated Press Television in Khartoum, the capital. "We wish ... the relationship with the Security Council will not be the way of confrontation. We hope it will be in the form of cooperation."
More than 30,000 people are thought to have been killed in the violence since two rebel factions took up arms against the government in February 2003. The rebels, drawn from African tribes, rose up against the Arab dominated government, claiming discrimination and political marginalization, after years of low-level conflict between African farmers and Arab herders competing for water and land.
Human rights groups, the U.S. Congress and U.N. officials accuse the government of trying to crush the rebellion by backing the Janjaweed — allegations Khartoum repeatedly denies.
Nigeria deployed 155 troops to Darfur on Monday, part of an African Union team to protect 80 monitors observing a ceasefire that was called in April but has been repeatedly broken. The Nigerians join 150 Rwandan troops already in the region on the mission.
Sudan has so far rejected African Union offers to send 2,000 peacekeepers with a stronger mandate to impose security in Darfur.
Ismail insisted that a peacekeeping role would draw the African Union troops in greater unrest.
"If they are going to be responsible for the security, the tribes will revolt against them. Then we will end up with a situation similar to Iraq, which is going to be very dangerous, and definitely the AU is going to fail. We don't want the AU to fail. We want the AU to succeed," Ismail said.
Newman, who touched down at Al-Fasher airport in a U.N. World Food Program twin-engine plane, was briefed by aid agencies and U.N. officials before touring Abu Shouk camp, home to some 43,000 villagers driven from their homes in 18 months of fighting.
Children clamored around Newman as she visited one of 200 classrooms in the camp, where students sat in the shade on mats to learn about basic sanitation and the importance of clean drinking water.
"Salam," she said to the children, using a traditional Arabic greeting, as she entered the straw and tarpaulin classroom UNICEF built and runs. She later watched as aid workers inoculated babies against measles. Newman refused to speak with journalists during her visit.
Abu Shouk camp, on the outskirts of al-Fasher, has an air of permanence. Residents have begun to build mud walls around their straw and tarpaulin shelters, and simple fences from scrub and thorn tree branches, replicating conditions in their villages.
Some have planted vegetables and corn outside their huts, and a small market thrives on the edge of the desert settlement. Many say they are too afraid to return home, fearing further attacks.
"We are happy and living here securely but we still need more — and we need them to give us more peace," said Kalthoum Mohammed Haroun, waving to Newman's small delegation as it passed through the camp in a convoy of white trucks.
Efforts to forge peace between rebels and the government at talks in Abuja, Nigeria, have so far proved fruitless, with each side accusing the other of violating the cease-fire.
Only 20 miles from Al-Fasher, the small mud and straw hut village of Um Hashab lies in ruins and abandoned after fighting between government forces and rebels. Villagers told The Associated Press they were attacked Thursday by Sudanese troops who dropped bombs from helicopters.
The African Union said it was investigating the claims.