Leaving for his much trailed trip to Sudan yesterday, the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: "I am keen to see for myself the situation on the ground in Darfur." He will, in fact, spend less than two and a half hours there and only a fraction of that time with the victims of what the United Nations has called "the worst humanitarian disaster in the world". Mr Straw will be the latest international dignitary to visit Sudan before a 30 August deadline set by the UN for the government to curb the murders, burnings and rapes. The consensus of opinion among diplomats, observers from the African Union and aid agencies is that violent ethnic cleansing is continuing. The UN estimates that more than 1.2 million people have been driven from their homes, and 36,000 killed. British officials view this as a "conservative estimate". Nevertheless, it is accepted that Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general will say, with British acquiescence, that there have been signs of progress and the Sudanese government should be given more time. The prospect of Britain contributing to a force to protect civilians in Darfur, mooted a few weeks ago, is no longer a possibility, and Mr Straw is expected to say so to the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir. Yesterday the Islamist Arab Sudanese government held its first talks since July with the two African rebel movements in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Army, and Justice and Equality Movement. But the government rejected an offer for African troops to disarm the Arab militia. Mr Straw is being taken to the Abu Shouk camp, at the town of Al-Fassar, in north Darfur. In terms of deprivation, its 55,000 refugees are better off than many of the thousands of other dispossessed, with a number of international agencies present to provide services. The Foreign Secretary will not visit Otash and Sefir, two camps with 45,000 people on the outskirts of Nyala, the capital of south Darfur, where babies die of hunger because, until very recently, the Sudanese authorities refused permission for aid agencies to work there, informs Independent. According to ABC NEWS, Sudan rejected a wider role for African peacekeepers in putting down violence and disarming militiamen in the Darfur region, as Sudanese and rebel officials opened peace talks Monday under heavy international pressure to find a solution to the crisis. The African Union proposed ahead of the talks to send nearly 2,000 peacekeepers to Darfur, where a pro-government mostly Arab militia known as the Janjaweed is accused of killing tens of thousands of black Africans and pushing more than 1.2 million from their homes. Sudan is under international pressure to rein in and disarm the Janjaweed. The United Nations has given the government until the end of August to start doing so or else face possible economic or diplomatic punishment. A Sudanese official rejected the African Union proposal, saying only his government was allowed to keep security in the sprawling Darfur region of western Sudan. Libyan Foreign Minister Ali Treki warned Monday against foreign intervention in solving the Darfur crisis in Sudan after the peace talks resumed in Abuja, capital ofNigeria. Xinhua News reports that Treki, representative of Libyan President Muamar Ghadafi attending the inter-Sudan talks aimed at ending the conflict in the Darfur region, said that there was a better way for those willing to help. "Those willing to assist Sudan should limit their efforts to providing relief materials and other items the troubled area might find useful," he said. Lauding efforts by the African Union (AU) to resolve the crisis,he said that it was high time African leaders insisted on being allowed to solve their problems. The minister advised the AU leaders to serve as a channel through which the opposing groups would express their grievances so as to arrive at an amicable solution. "We must continue to develop confidence in ourselves. Indeed, we should see this particular meeting toward peace in Sudan as one such confidence building challenge," he said.
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