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UN human rights mission heads to Sudan to begin Darfur leg of tour

UN human rights mission heads to Sudan to begin Darfur leg of tour

A fact-finding team from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has left Geneva for Sudan to investigate the situation in the country's Darfur region, where it is alleged that Arab militias have conducted an ethnic cleansing campaign against the local black African population.

The five-member team departed Geneva late yesterday, OHCHR announced in a statement, following an invitation from the Sudanese Government to visit Darfur and the national capital Khartoum. It is due to arrive in Khartoum today and then travel to Darfur tomorrow.

Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan said he sought assurances from the Sudanese Government that the fact-finding team could visit any place it wanted, talk to anyone it wished, and be assured of security during its tour.

The fact-finding team has already spent nine days interviewing Sudanese refugees in neighbouring Chad, where tens of thousands have fled to escape civil conflict in Darfur. The refugees raised "serious allegations of a troubling nature," and they have been submitted to Mr. Ramcharan in a report, the OHCHR statement said.

Earlier this month Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said an organized, "scorched-earth" policy of ethnic cleansing was occurring in Darfur.

He said there were credible and frequent reports that Janjaweed militias, which are Arab and allied to the Sudanese Government, had committed atrocities - including murders, rapes and acts of looting and destruction - against local black Africans, especially members of the Fur, Zaghawas and Massalit ethnic communities.

Conflict erupted early last year in Darfur between the Sudanese Government, allied militias and rebel groups. As many as 1 million people are now internally displaced and some 110,000 others have fled to Chad.