The United Nations peacekeeping chief on Tuesday urged Sudan to shed light on allegations of chemical weapons attacks in Darfur, but Russia said the claims must not be taken seriously.
Herve Ladsous said he was “very alarmed” by an Amnesty International report that accused Sudanese government forces of carrying out more than 30 chemical attacks this year in villages of Darfur’s Jebel Marra region.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in response to the report released last week that it would require further information and evidence to push ahead with a formal investigation.
Ladsous told the Security Council that Khartoum – which has signed the Chemical Weapons Convention – should “maintain full co-operation with any future OPCW investigation, as it has expressed readiness to do so”.
Amnesty said that between 200 and 250 people including many children may have died as a result of exposure to chemical agents during the attacks.
France and Britain have said the allegations should be thoroughly investigated, but Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the report was unconvincing.
“Those allegations are not serious. There are so many reasons to believe they are not serious,” Churkin told reporters.
Ladsous stressed that the United Nations had no evidence of the use of such weapons but that its peacekeepers from the Unamid joint mission with the African Union had been barred from traveling to those areas to verify the reports.
The peacekeeping chief said Unamid had once again asked the Sudanese government for access to the mountainous villages where the chemical attacks allegedly took place.
Following a closed-door meeting on Darfur, the Russian ambassador said the council “wouldn’t mind” if the OPCW decided to open a formal investigation.
Churkin, whose country holds the council presidency this month, said a team from Unamid could also be dispatched to the area and could “come to the conclusion that those reports were not accurate.”
Up to 194 000 people have been displaced in Jebel Marra since mid-January when the Sudanese army launched a military campaign against the rebel Sudan Liberation Army – Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) group, the United Nations says.
Darfur has been engulfed in a conflict since 2003 when ethnic minority groups took up arms against President Omar al-Bashir’s Arab-dominated government, which launched a brutal counter-insurgency.
At least 300 000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced, the United Nations says.