Blair told to take tougher Darfur stance

TONY Blair came under renewed pressure to take a stronger line over Sudan’s Darfur region last night, amid suggestions the United Nations has decided the systematic killing of civilians in the area does not constitute genocide.

Senior members from the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats united to call on the Prime Minister to step up Britain’s involvement in the crisis, and push for a much tougher international stance against the Sudanese government.

Since early 2003, government-backed militias have been operating in Darfur, in western Sudan, killing and raping the civilian population. Aid agencies estimate that up to 300,000 people have been killed and some two million have been driven from their homes, many over the border into Chad.

A United Nations commission has been assessing whether the situation in Darfur meets the legal definition of genocide, a crime that would put the international community under an obligation to intervene.

The US Congress has already described what is taking place as genocide, but the Sudanese government yesterday said the UN report, to be published later this week, would not endorse that conclusion.

"We have a copy of that report and they didn’t say there is a genocide," Mustafa Osman Ismail, the Sudanese foreign minister said in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, yesterday.

Such suggestions have dismayed Glenys Kinnock, a Labour MEP and overseas development spokeswoman, Michael Ancram, the deputy Tory leader, and Sir Menzies Campbell, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats.

In a joint letter to Mr Blair, they wrote: "We fear the UN commission on Darfur will, in effect, signal to the military dictatorship in Khartoum that it can continue to murder its own citizens with impunity."

In response, they said Britain must press for a no-fly zone to be imposed over Darfur to stop the Sudanese air force supporting or supplying militia attacks, and for targeted international sanctions against Khartoum.

They tacitly accused Britain of not doing enough to help the African Union peace-keeping force trying to suppress the violence in Darfur, suggesting the mission still lacked "sufficient resources and support."

Last summer, Mr Blair said he believed Britain was doing everything possible for Darfur, and he visited Khartoum in October, where he said he had received assurances from the regime that the violence would be curbed. Those promises have been broken, according to Mrs Kinnock, Mr Ancram and Sir Menzies.

In New York yesterday, Australia, Canada and New Zealand urged the UN Security Council to impose targeted sanctions on Sudan’s regime and prosecute its members for war crimes.