UNITED NATIONS/KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese security officials have arrested two Darfuri refugees who were seen speaking to envoys from the U.N. Security Council during a visit to the region, a U.S. official said on Friday.
Sudan’s Foreign Ministry, however, denied that anyone who spoke to council members during their October 5-9 visit to Sudan had been arrested.
The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States has been urging the Sudanese government in Khartoum and its diplomats at the United Nations to release the Darfuris and cease the harassment of those who talked to council envoys on their visit.
“It’s obviously unacceptable,” the official said, adding that the United States has asked U.N. officials to brief the 15-nation Security Council on the matter on Monday. He said that U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice was personally involved in efforts to try to free the detained Darfuris.
The U.S. official said Washington first heard about the arrests a week ago.
The U.S. and British envoys on the Security Council trip to Sudan told reporters refugees had complained to them directly about hunger and deteriorating security in the arid region.
Sudan’s Darfur conflict, which broke out in 2003, pitting mostly non-Arab rebels against government troops and allied militias, forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes and take refuge in ramshackle camps.
The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies, a British-based human rights organization, said in a statement that Sudanese security officers started searching for 16 people soon after the ambassadors ended a visit to North Darfur’s Abu Shouk refugee camp.
The 16 went into hiding but security officers later arrested two men, one of whom had been seen talking to Rice in a displaced persons camp, the group said.
“The ACJPS calls on the government of Sudan to immediately cease harassment of individuals who may have met with the U.N. Security Council, and to end the repressive use of emergency laws to target and intimidate members of civil society and IDP (internally displaced people) leaders,” the group said.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that the United Nations was looking into the matter. “Certainly any arrests of people who had spoken to the Security Council delegation would be a source of great concern for us,” he said.
Sudan dismissed the allegations.
“This is not accurate,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Moawia Osman told Reuters. “Nobody was arrested who talked to the Security Council ambassadors.”
He said security officers had called in a number of people for interviews as part of investigations into other incidents, not related to the U.N. visit. “They have been called in for investigation. They were not detained,” he said.
Separately, the Enough Project, the Save Darfur Coalition and other advocacy groups sent a joint letter to the Security Council urging it to take action on the arrests, which they said was another example of Khartoum’s “modus operandi of brutally repressing basic human rights.”
The letter said the council “must immediately make clear to the Government of Sudan that such arbitrary arrests and detentions are unacceptable.”
Editing by Tim Pearce and Eric Beech