Refugees burned alive as violence returns to Darfur

By Meera Selva, Africa Correspondent
Published: 30 September 2005

Darfur is in the grip of a fresh outbreak of violence,
with hundreds of civilians being killed by warring
militias and the United Nations mission considering
pulling out of the region. 

At least 29 people were reported killed yesterday in
an "unprecedented" attack on the Aro Sharow refugee
camp in the northwestern area of Sudan. The United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said people in
the camp and local villagers had been attacked by 300
"armed Arab men on horses and camels".

Over the past two months thousands of civilians have
fled their villages across Darfur. At least 5,000
people have been driven to shelter in camps, saying
their villages had been attacked by the pro-government
militias known as the janjaweed. Hundreds more are
reported to have been killed. The Sudanese government
had promised to clamp down on militias operating in
the region earlier this year, but both the rebel Sudan
Liberation Army (SLA) and the janjaweed have stepped
up attacks on civilians, aid workers and each other.

On Wednesday, the UN's under secretary general for
humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, warned that the
situation in Darfur was becoming so violent that the
UN and other aid agencies may have to pull out. He
said: "As we speak, we have had to suspend action in
many areas. Tens of thousands of people will not get
any assistance today because it is too dangerous and
it could grow."

Since the beginning of August, more than 45 aid
convoys have been attacked on roads leading to the
main camps by militias who have beaten up drivers and
stolen food from the vehicles. Aid agencies have now
stopped using main roads, and are relying on a few
helicopters to get supplies to displaced people. Local
staff working at many of the camps have not had their
salaries paid for months.

Nicki Bennett, based in Nyala for Oxfam, said: "The
security situation in Darfur remains extremely
volatile - people still face the threat of horrific
violence on a daily basis, and insecurity is also
hampering humanitarian access ... The African Union
peacekeeping troops are helping to improve the
situation in the areas where they are deployed, but
there are not nearly enough of them. At the moment,
there are not even 6,000 troops trying to patrol a
region the size of France."

The humanitarian situation has been worsened by rains,
which have flooded many of the camps. Medical workers
say outbreaks of malaria and diarrhoea are increasing,
but they are not able to get medicines to the worst
affected areas. A fuel shortage is also hindering the
delivery of food and medicines.

All sides have also intensified military operations.
Last week, the SLA launched a surprise attack to gain
control of the southern Darfur town of Sheiria, and on
Monday, the janjaweed, in uniform and on horseback,
crossed the border and killed 36 people in Chad. The
Chad army, which claims to have killed seven of the
attackers, said the janjaweed crossed the border to
steal livestock.

Peace talks between the Sudanese government and the
SLA resumed in Nigeria this week, but the AU has
complained that the SLA is destabilising the talks by
continuing to fight. The SLA insists it is only
defending itself. The talks are also likely to be
hindered by the fact that the SLA has splintered into
several groups. A recent UN policy meeting in Darfur
was disrupted by Sudanese national security forces,
which arrested and later released several of the
Sudanese participants.

More than two million people have fled their homes in
Darfur over the past two and half years, and an
estimated 180,000 have been killed. After an
international outcry last year, the Sudanese
government agreed to take measures to end the
violence, but international attention has moved away
from the region. 


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