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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Study: About 200,000 killed in Darfur

Between 170,000 and 255,000 people have died in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region since 2003, according to a study published Friday in the journal Science.

There is much uncertainty in estimating the death toll in Darfur because of difficulties getting accurate body counts in the conflict-ridden region, according to the study by Alberto Palloni, who directs the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin, and John Hagan, a sociology and law professor at Northwestern University in Illinois.

"The core of the problem is that in natural disasters, you can count the bodies or relatives are relatively accessible" to talk to, Hagan said in a telephone interview Friday. "This just isn't happening in Africa. There are mass graves, but NGOs (non-governmental organizations) don't have access to them."

The conflict in Darfur began in early 2003 when ethnic African tribes revolted against the Khartoum government. The Arab-dominated Sudanese government has been accused of unleashing Arab militiamen known as janjaweed who have been blamed for widespread atrocities, including rapes and killings.

U.N. officials have given death toll estimates of 180,000 to 200,000, while the U.S. State Department issued a report in spring 2005 that estimated between 63,000 and 146,000 had died.

The Associated Press has been reporting over the past several months that more than 200,000 people have died since 2003 based on a compilation of data from the United Nations and various aid organizations.

In their study, the authors used World Health Organization and Medicins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, surveys done in refugee camps in West Darfur to obtain monthly mortality rate estimates. They used a ratio of the mortality rates to number of displaced people in the camps to extrapolate the data to cover the entire Darfur region over 31 months.

"We tried to sort out the problems of overestimation and underestimation," of the death toll, Hagan said. "We can say safely and cautiously that the toll is over 200,000," he said.

The study covers 31 months beginning in the fall 2003 and ending in the spring of this year. The study does not include the months since then and the months when the conflict first began in early 2003, nor does it include missing people who are presumed dead.

"I think the estimate is reasonable, but I don't think the research used appropriate methodologies to reach that conclusion," said Rich Brennan, the director of the New York-based International Rescue Committee's health unit. He said the study did not include all possible surveys done in Darfur.

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