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US expresses concern over escalation of violence in Sudan’s Darfur

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Sept 21, 2005 (WASHINGTON) — The United States expressed concern over an escalation of violence in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, saying African Union ceasefire monitors were critical in bringing the situation under control.

Sudan Liberation Army rebels speed through the desert east of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state November 8, 2004. (Reuters).

"There has been an uptick in violence, both rebel and government militia-associated. This is of concern to us," deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters.

Sudanese government accused rebels of deliberately attempting to undermine peace talks after the insurgents claimed responsibility for an attack on a government-held town.

The Sudanese Liberation Movement, the main rebel group in Darfur, claimed to have killed 80 government soldiers in two days of fighting around the town of Sheiria and in the Khazzan Jedid region of southern Darfur.

The news undermined attempts by the AU to coax the SLM and the Khartoum government into negotiating a political solution to the 30-month-old conflict at a peace conference in Abuja.

Ereli said that Roger Winter, the special representative of Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, was in Khartoum Wednesday and would shortly visit the region "to deal with this and see if we can help to contain the violence and get the parties to act responsibly."

"The AU continues to be there in force and to be exercising a very important monitoring role. Those forces are growing, both in terms of number, as well as capabilities. And their mission, I think, is critical to this process," Erlei said.

The SLM and another rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, launched their uprising to protest what they saw as the economic and political marginalisation of Darfur and its mainly black African population by the Arab-led government in Khartoum.

Government forces responded with a scorched earth campaign in which Arab militias such as the Janjaweed stepped up attacks against minority villages suspected of supporting the rebels.

Up to 300,000 people have died in Darfur since the beginning of the rebellion in February 2003, while more than two million others have been displaced, sparking one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

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