'Elders' criticize West's response to situation in Darfur

Brahimi says West 'pampered' rebels, while Carter calls US's use of term 'genocide' to describe violence 'unhelpful.'

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As the Darfur peace mission of the retired statesmen known as the Elders came to an end, two of their number - former UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and former US President Jimmy Carter - chastened the West for its handling of the violent situation in Sudan. The BBC reports that Mr. Brahimi - a member of the group of Elders that includes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, rights advocate Graca Machel, and entrepreneur Richard Branson - chastised the West for pandering to Sudanese rebel groups that may not represent the people of Darfur.

"The international community has acted rather irresponsibly on all this in the past by pampering a lot of these people around - not really wondering whether they really represented anybody and whether they were acting responsibly," said Mr Brahimi.

The BBC adds that although he praised the plans for UN-sponsored peace talks later this month in Libya, Brahimi warned that the West needs to ensure that the people of Darfur are properly represented at the talks. Brahimi's criticism of the West's handling of Darfur was joined by that of Mr. Carter, who singled out the United States government for its use of the term "genocide" to describe the Sundanese conflict. Reuters reports that Carter called Washington's use of the term "genocide" was both legally inaccurate and "unhelpful."

"There is a legal definition of genocide and Darfur does not meet that legal standard. The atrocities were horrible but I don't think it qualifies to be called genocide," he said. Washington is almost alone in branding the 4 1/2 years of violence in Darfur genocide. Khartoum rejects the term, European governments are reluctant to use it and a U.N.-appointed commission of inquiry found no genocide, but that some individuals may have acted with genocidal intent. Carter, whose charitable foundation, the Carter Center, worked to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC), said: "If you read the law textbooks ... you'll see very clearly that it's not genocide and to call it genocide falsely just to exaggerate a horrible situation I don't think it helps."

Brahimi's and Carter's comments come at the end the Elders' two-day mission to Sudan. Voice of America reports that during their visit, the Elders found that "people in Darfur were desperate for protection, despite the Sudanese government's insistence that the situation in the region is getting better."

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Some people they visited slipped them notes full of allegations of rape and other abuse by militias aligned with the Sudanese government. The wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, told of her meeting with women in Darfur. "The first thing they told us they need security," she said. "They need security. They gave us examples of what happened to them, even graphically, to show how women are being raped, are beaten and are brutalized. I think because they thought we may not get a clear translation, they went at length of using gestures to show us how brutal it was, the kind of assault they are subjected to."

Although the situation in Darfur remains grim, there have been some positive signs in the last few days. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the Elders earned one "victory of sorts" in the form of a pledge of $300 million from China and the Sudanese government to help rebuild Darfur. And Reuters reports that on Thursday, Ethiopia pledged 5,000 troops to a planned joint peacekeeping mission of the UN and the African Union. But AU force commander Martin Luther Agwai noted that no African nation has the military equipment that the 26,000-strong mission would require, and said that non-African nations would need to help.

In addition, a report just released in Britain warns that Darfur refugees who are turned away by British government face "appalling torture and beatings" at the hands of Sudanese officials, writes The Independent of London. The report, published by the anti-genocide campaign Aegis Trust, documents the extensive abuse suffered by men deported from Britain back to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. The Aegis Trust, which helped the men escape back to Britain, condemned the government for sending the asylum-seekers back into harm's way.

Dr James Smith, chief executive of the Aegis Trust, said: "[British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown has shown welcome leadership on Darfur. "However, sending Darfuri survivors to Khartoum sends a message that Britain regards the Sudanese security apparatus as trustworthy – the same security apparatus responsible for the atrocities in Darfur."

The criticism comes as the House of Lords court of appeals begins to hear "a test case that could seal the fate of hundreds of Darfuri people currently facing deportation." The British Home Office responded to the Aegis Trust's criticism by saying that despite "grave concerns" over the situation in Darfur, the government "[does] not think it unreasonable to expect failed asylum-seekers to relocate to Khartoum, where the Court of Appeal found there is no risk of persecution."

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