Nov 10, 7:37 PM EST

UN: No immediate proof found of mass Darfur rape

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UN: No immediate proof found of mass Darfur rape

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KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- The joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan's Darfur region said Monday an initial investigation has turned up no evidence of a claimed mass rape in a village there, but a U.N. envoy said there was a heavy military presence during the visit which could have affected the findings.

UNAMID said investigators spent several hours Sunday in the village of Tabit, located 45 kilometers (28 miles) southwest of El-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur.

The U.N. Security Council was briefing behind closed doors on the investigation. Australia's U.N. Ambassador Gary Quinlan, the current council president, told reporters afterward that the Sudanese military denied UNAMID access to Tabit from Nov. 4-9.

He said the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, told council members by videoconference from Geneva that while the rape allegations remain unverified, because of the heavy military presence "in her view it was not possible to conclude that no sexual violence took place."

Allegations first surfaced earlier this month of a mass rape of 200 women in Tabit and UNAMID said it intends to conduct further investigations.

Quinlan said Bangura told the council that it was critical that UNAMID continued to have unrestricted access to Tabit to complete its investigation and to provide any humanitarian and medical assistance that may be required. She reminded members that neither she nor her predecessor had been permitted to visit Darfur, and she urged the Sudanese government to facilitate her visit, Quinlan said.

He said a number of council members asked why a strong military presence was necessary during the UNAMID visit and spoke of "an environment of threat and intimidation."

Quinlan said Bangura raised questions about whether "a wall of silence" had been created.

"We've all agreed that the proper course now is to ensure that the UNAMID continuing investigation happens as soon as possible, and that there is high-level contact between UNAMID and the government to ensure that it happens," he said.

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Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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