NAIROBI (Reuters) - Pro-government Arab militias in western Sudan's Darfur region are carrying out systematic killings of African villagers reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide, a U.N. official said Friday.
"We have a vicious war going on which is leading to the violation of human rights on a scale comparable to historic situations, increasingly for example Rwanda," Mukesh Kapila, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, told reporters.
Kapila, who recently completed a trip to Sudan, was referring to Rwanda's 1994 genocide in which extremist Hutus massacred 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days.
"The only difference between Rwanda and Darfur now is the numbers of dead, murdered, tortured, raped... Some people are using the term ethnic cleansing to describe what is going on in Darfur and I would say that that is not far off the mark... All the warning signs are there for ethnic cleansing."
He said more than 10,000 people had been killed since two Darfur rebel groups launched a revolt against the government in February 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the region and arming Arab "Janjaweed" militias who loot African villages.
Fighting has intensified since peace talks with one group collapsed in December 2003 and U.N. officials estimate the war has displaced up to one million people, with more than 100,000 refugees fleeing to Chad. The government disputes the figures.
"In our estimation it's now the world's greatest humanitarian crisis and quite possibly the world's hottest war at the moment," Kapila said, adding aid workers on the ground reported a systematic scorched-earth policy.
He cited a February 28 attack on Tawila village in which at least 100 women were raped in a few hours. Six girls were raped in front of their fathers who were later killed.
In the same attack 75 people were killed, all the houses looted and about 150 women and 200 children abducted.
"All the information we've been able to acquire through observers on the ground (shows) that the Janjaweed are involved in many of these activities," Kapila said.
"People with uniforms are doing these things. To what extent it is sanctioned by the government, I do not know... We've heard reports of planes and helicopters being used in attacks on villages and reports of civilians being killed in those attacks."
Kapila said the rebels, for their part, were guilty of looting aid convoys taking food to refugees fleeing the war.
Like southern rebels discussing peace with the government at talks in Kenya, western insurgents say they are fighting to end years of neglect and exploitation by the Islamist government but have so far won none of the concessions southerners have done at the negotiating table.
I guess some countries just don't have enough significance.