Saturday, October 08, 2005

Bandits beat, whip aid workers in Darfur

Saturday October 8, 2005
El-Geneina, Sudan, Friday

Bandits have punched, beaten and whipped aid workers attempting to deliver aid to hungry refugees in Sudan's remote Darfur region, part of a pattern of regular attacks, aid workers said.

In West Darfur 75,000 people are cut off without aid because of a recent escalation in ambushes on the road targeting aid convoys, UN official Andy Pendleton said.

"They are punched, beaten -- aid workers have been whipped by these bandits, intimidated," he said.

"So of course you give them anything they want," he told Reuters on Thursday.

The armed men loot valuable equipment and supplies from aid convoys.

Pendleton said he had been caught in cross fire in Darfur. If security did not improve and aid could not get through, refugees would become malnourished, he said.

Almost 11,000 aid workers operate in Darfur, a region the size of France. Last week senior UN official Jan Egeland said the world body may have to pull out of Darfur because of the escalation of violence.

Matthew Ryder, another aid worker in el-Geneina, said serious attacks happened as often as 2-3 times a week but were becoming less frequent because aid convoys had stopped using the roads south of the town.

He said many attacks were by bandits but there was also a pattern of political violence.

"We can say there's a great deal of banditry -- but just banditry? I think that's naive," Ryder said.

Early last month a convoy of 22 aid workers were stopped and beaten near el-Geneina. The women were stripped and whipped.

A 6th round of peace talks began last month to try to end the revolt that has killed tens of thousands in Darfur and forced 2 million people to flee their homes.

Non-Arab rebels accuse the central government of neglect and of monopolising wealth and power.

Almost 6,000 African Union troops are deployed to monitor a shaky ceasefire but Arab militias attacked a refugee camp last week in West Darfur, killing at least 34 people.

Pendleton said the AU needed more troops.

"We are waiting ... for the full deployment of the AU which we hope will ... allow them to fulfil their mandate in a broader and more dynamic way," he said.

The AU plans to increase its force up to 12,000 in early 2006. But many aid organisations refuse to have AU troops accompany their vehicles, fearing association with any troops would endanger their neutrality. —Reuters

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