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Panel Led by U.S. Criticizes Sudan's Government Over Slavery
By MARC LACEY
HARTOUM, Sudan, May 22 — An international commission led by the United States condemned the Sudanese government today for allowing slavery to flourish in this war-ravaged country.
But the commission said the issue was not as clear-cut as it was often portrayed. Panel members also questioned whether international Christian organizations that buy slaves and free them are helping the situation, saying it would be better if slaves were released with no money changing hands. Critics say the payments may help create a market for slaves.
Government officials have long denied any role in what they call tribal abductions. As a show of concern, in 1999 Sudan created the Commission for the Elimination of Abductions of Women and Children to address the problem. Few outside experts take the group seriously.
But the panel, which was created this year by the United States and includes officials from France, Italy, Norway and Britain, said in a report issued today that Sudan had done too little to control a practice that is largely carried out by militiamen armed by the government.
"They burn villages, loot cattle, rape and kill civilians and abduct and enslave men, women and children," the panel said in its report, which includes interviews with many former slaves.
The findings will come as no surprise to American policy makers, who have long accused Sudan of tacitly allowing slavery. John C. Danforth, President Bush's special envoy for the country, who helped to create the panel, said in a report to Mr. Bush last month, "The record is clear: the government arms and directs marauding raiders who operate in the south, destroying villages and abducting women and children to serve as chattel servants, herders and field hands."
The panel found no easy answers. It said the government ought to aggressively prosecute those who engage in slavery and actively seek the return of captives to their homes.
Led by Penn Kemble, a former director of the United States Information Agency, the commission found that a wide variety of economic relationships exist among the Sudanese. Many of them are exploitative, like bondage to pay off debts, but fall short of slavery.
It also said slavery is a long-standing practice in Sudan, even though it was made illegal in 1924.
The modern version of slavery, the commission found, exists without slave markets or a formal slave trade. Instead, raiders attack villages, most often those near the north-south divide, to round up forced laborers.
The report said the problem was most troublesome among the government-backed militias that guard the military supply train that runs from Babanusa through rebel-held territory in Bahr el Ghazal to Wau in the south. The commission called for the government to stop running the train until the end of the war.
The commission gave no estimate of the number of slaves in the country. Previous figures have ranged from 10,000 to more than 10 times that. The commission said both the government and the southern rebels had obstructed previous efforts at counting.
The rebels were also said to have abducted villagers, particularly in the Western Upper Nile area, and to have forced civilians to join them. Both sides, the commission reported, have engaged in human rights violations from rape and hostage taking to intentional attacks on civilians.
(c) 2002 The New York Times Company. Reprinted by Permission
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