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Egypt's Sudanese despair after killings

1/2/2006 9:14pm

CAIRO, Egypt (Reuters) -- Halima Baraka cried quietly on Monday as she recalled how she lost her 11-year old son in the panic that ensued when Egyptian police cleared a Sudanese refugee protest camp last Friday, leaving at least 27 dead.

A Sudanese father, Abdelaziz Mohamed, standing nearby whispered that he did not know what to do with the body of his 9-month-old daughter, which he said was at a hospital morgue.

A morgue official on Sunday said the number of Sudanese killed in the clash with police had reached 27, including 11 children. The morgue had previously said 23 were killed.

People close by Mohamed scrambled around a pile of photos, books and other belongings that were dumped on the floor of a church after being moved from the protest site.

"I was exhausted. There was chaos and I couldn't find him. I don't know whether he's dead or alive," Baraka said.

She was standing in a squalid room in Cairo's Notre Dame church, which houses up to 2,000 of the roughly 3,500 Sudanese protestors who Egyptian police had forcibly moved from a protest camp outside U.N. offices in an affluent Cairo district.

The protesters had been at the camp for up to three months demanding that the U.N.'s refugee agency move them to another country, citing racism and a lack of jobs, education and health care in Egypt since they fled violence in Sudan.

Police used water cannons and beat people with truncheons to move them from the camp after officials failed to persuade them to board buses voluntarily. Talks with the U.N. refugee arm to end the protest had failed two weeks earlier.

"We want to move to a country that treats us like human beings, where we can live in freedom ... Ask anyone -- we can't send our children to school. The one job we're allowed to do here is be a cleaner," said Fawzia Adam, from western Sudan.

Egypt calls for investigation
"The Egyptian government will never help. The U.N. just stood by. If there's no solution we will all have to just kill ourselves. This is the final solution, so that world knows it's impossible to live like this," she added.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called the deaths a tragedy but has said it cannot resettle them all in another country because many are looking for a better life and are not refugees fleeing conflict.

Egypt has high unemployment and the UNHCR has said ordinary Egyptians face similar problems in accessing state services. The refugees said discrimination made their situation worse.

The Egyptian government has called for an investigation into the "large" number of deaths of women and children, a report from Egypt's official Middle East News Agency (MENA) said.

The report said the government had ruled out an international investigation and added that the police had exhausted peaceful means to end the protest. It said people had thrown bricks and stones at the police.

"Egypt has dealt with the sit-in of the refugees with wisdom and patience," MENA quoted Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit as saying.

Refugees at Notre Dame church said hundreds had been detained. An Interior Ministry denied that any Sudanese were being held in connection with the clashes.

Sudan's north-south civil war lasted over two decades and made 4 million people homeless. A separate conflict in the western Darfur region has produced a further 2 million refugees.

A peace agreement in January 2005 ended the north-south civil war but many Sudanese say it is not safe to return home as the deal is fragile.

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