Eight women leaders urged the international community on Friday to ramp up the pressure for an immediate ceasefire in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.
The group, just back from a visit to the refugee camps of eastern Chad, said [that] peace talks between the conflicting factions set for October 27 could be crucial in building greater security for women caught up in the conflict.
The group, including former Irish president Mary Robinson and five eminent African leaders, said [that] they were "deeply shocked" by suffering [that] they saw in women and children in Chad, where refugees from neighbouring Darfur have fled.
"As women leaders, we decided to listen to the voices and stories of women from Chad and Darfur, and make them central to the response to our visit," the group said in a statement.
"We want women in Darfur and Chad -- and all women who are going through the same suffering -- to hear that at last their pain is heard, and [that] their words are considered at a high political level."
Women who had escaped from horrific attacks by militiamen in Darfur now faced being targeted in the refugee camps, Robinson told a press conference in London, part of a tour of world capitals ahead of a crucial UN Security Council meeting in New York on Africa later this month.
"Our message is that we need a ceasefire, because the violence continues," she said. "We need security and protection, because women who suffered terrible traumas in their villages are now suffering it in the camps."
She added: "It is very important that peace talks begin again. We want women to be there in the peace talks, to ensure [that] they have a voice in the UN council."
Asha Hagi Elmi Amin, a member of Somalia's transitional parliament, said [that] the October peace talks in Libya would be very important.
"Unless there is a genuine, serious discussion that leads to a comprehensive political conciliation, the suffering will continue," she said.
The conflicting factions "must have a sense of responsibility to terminate their own ambitions for the people's sake."
"We cannot accept the continuation of this human tragedy."
The Darfur conflict began in 2003, when an ethnic minority rose up against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, which then enlisted the Janjaweed militia group to help crush the rebellion.
According to UN estimates, at least 200,000 people have died and two million people [have been] displaced from the combined effect of war and famine since the conflict started. Other sources give much-higher figures, but Khartoum disputes them.
More than 150,000 Chadians have been displaced by the cross-border violence in eastern Chad, now home to 200,000 Darfur refugees.
"The conflict can really spread in the region like wildfire," the Kenyan women's-rights campaigner said.