Sudan Red Crescent: Emblem not misused, 70 buried

July 15, 2011 - 11:14 AM

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — An internal investigation has found no evidence that people posed as Red Crescent workers to force refugees out of a U.N.-protected camp in a region of Sudan where at least 70 people have been killed, a spokeswoman for the group said Friday.

Fighting broke out in June in South Kordofan, an area of Sudan located near the newly independent Republic of South Sudan, which became its own nation last weekend.

Reports have emerged of mass graves and aerial bombardments in South Kordofan in recent weeks, but the U.N., most aid workers and journalists have been prevented from traveling to the region to investigate.

A U.N. report obtained by The Associated Press last month said that Sudanese intelligence agents had posed as Red Crescent workers and ordered refugees to leave the U.N.-protected camp.

Activists fear Sudan's military is carrying out targeted killings of the Nuba people, a black ethnic group that supports the military from the Republic of South Sudan. Sudan attacked the Nuba people in the 1990s in violence that many labeled a genocide.

But Faye Callaghan, a spokeswoman of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said Friday that after those allegations were published, the IFRC launched an investigation but found no evidence that its emblem was misused.

The IFRC is encouraging a further joint investigation with the U.N. and expects a retraction if there is evidence from that probe, she said.

"The Sudanese Red Crescent Society is one of the few humanitarian organizations with access to operate in South Kordofan, and such allegations could have serious consequences for its ongoing work," Callaghan said.

Separately, the Satellite Sentinel Project, a U.S. group, said in report Thursday that satellite photos appeared to show three large mass graves in Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan.

The U.S. group said it was told by an eyewitness that Sudanese Armed Forces troops, militia fighters, men in brown uniforms like those worn by prisoners and individuals dressed in a manner consistent with Sudan Red Crescent Society workers were seen driving large green trucks close to the alleged mass grave site.

Callaghan said that Sudanese Red Crescent workers have been involved in removing dead bodies, placing them in body bags, registering and documenting them and burying them, all in accordance with rules set by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Seventy bodies have been buried so far, including 25 from Kadugli collected between June 5-13. The rest were collected after July 5.

Activists have called for the United States and the international community to intervene in South Kordofan. Details about mass graves, aerial bombardments and other violence in the same area were described in an internal June report by Sudan's U.N. peacekeeping mission that was circulating at United Nations headquarters in New York.

The report said four U.N. military observers were detained, interrogated and told to line up against a wall. An officer with the Sudan Armed Forces then removed the safety on his AK-47. Another officer intervened. The first officer then shouted "UNMIS leave Southern Kordofan; if not we will kill you."

In Sudan's western Darfur region, African rebels also accuse the Arab-dominated government of discrimination and neglect. The U.N. says 300,000 people have died in the conflict there and 2.7 million have fled their homes since 2003.

The International Criminal Court has indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.

Sudan does not recognize the court in The Hague and has refused to hand indicted officials over. Al-Bashir's warrant has however curtailed his movements outside of Sudan amid pressure on countries to arrest him and send him to The Hague to stand trial.

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Associated Press writer Anita Snow at the United Nations contributed to this report.