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Sudan's At-Risk Villages Get Help from Satellites

Vulnerable villages in war-torn Western Sudan are getting help from high-powered satellites.

Using a Web site and satellite cameras, Amnesty International USA plans to track developments in 12 at-risk villages by sending up-to-date images to a Web site.

The human rights organization hopes its "Eyes on Darfur" project will help prevent violence before it happens, and compel computer users worldwide to pressure the country's president, Omar al-Bashir, to let peacekeepers into the country.

Ariela Blatter, director of the Crisis Prevention and Response Center for Amnesty, said new images of the 12 villages will be added within days of each other. Amnesty and researchers chose the villages because of their proximity to important resources like water, because they have been threatened by government-backed Janjaweed militias or because of other attacks nearby.

The time frame will allow researchers to potentially spot new destruction or even prevent attacks. If researchers spot soldiers massing in an area, she said, humanitarian groups on the ground could be warned by satellite phones.

John Ukec, Sudan's charge d'affaires in Washington, D.C., says satellite technology may be advancing but that it can't tell the full story or the complexities of the war in Darfur.

"We will check (the Web site) out but, you know, it will not give me anything which is sufficient because, you know, how do I know this is somebody dressed in military uniform? How do I know that this is a Janjaweed? How do I know this is a rebel from all the other 15 factions? This is a matter of analysis here. Just looking at the data doesn't mean anything," Ukec said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.