Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Satellite eyes on Darfur

By Michelle Nichols
Wed Jun 6, 6:54 AM ET

Amnesty International started posting satellite images on the Internet of villages in Sudan's conflict-ravaged Darfur on Wednesday in a bid to pressure Khartoum to allow U.N. peacekeepers into the region.

The rights group invited people around the world to log on to, which will be updated regularly with new photographs, and help it monitor 12 vulnerable villages and put Khartoum on notice that these areas are being watched closely for signs of any further violence.

It also includes archived images that include some from the village of Donkey Dereis, which is shown in 2004 with hundreds of huts, but two years later had 1,171 homes gone and the landscape overgrown with vegetation.

More than 200,000 people have died and 2 million been driven from home since the conflict in western Sudan between ethnic African rebels and the government, backed by the Arab Janjaweed militia, began in 2003. Khartoum says 9,000 have died and rejects accusations of genocide.

The U.N. Security Council last year adopted a resolution to deploy a 23,000-strong "hybrid" U.N.-African Union force. But Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir called that figure too high. He has agreed to the deployment of 3,000 U.N. police and military personnel to aid the A.U. force of about 7,000.

However, the final plan for the hybrid force has not yet reached Khartoum because of differences between the African Union and United Nations about control of the operation.

Amnesty said the satellite images could show objects as small as 2 feet across, which would allow the display of destroyed huts, massing soldiers or fleeing refugees.

"We expect the Sudanese government to protect these and all villages throughout Darfur," said Ariela Blatter, director of Amnesty USA's Crisis Prevention and Response Center, who led the development of the Eyes on Darfur project. "We expect these villages to be intact today, tomorrow and well, well into the future."

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited

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