Saturday, October 22, 2005

Darfur agony goes on as the UN fails to act

Sat 22 Oct 2005 show images

FIFTEEN months after the United Nations' Security Council issued an ultimatum to the government of Sudan to clean up its act in Darfur or face action, shocking new evidence of atrocities is emerging. Various governments have labelled the campaign of murder and forced displacement in Darfur as genocide and the UN last year described Darfur as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Yet according to the UN's own situation reports and accounts of investigations by African Union (AU) peacekeeping forces, the black African farmers targeted in the initial wave of violence continue to face the daily threat of violence.

The UN and AU reports detail murders, rapes and the burning of entire villages by Sudanese government forces and their armed militia allies, known as janjaweed.

They also reveal the threat now facing humanitarian aid workers in the region, who have increasingly found themselves the target of attack.

A UN report from last month sheds light on the worst recent incident involving aid workers, describing how the group of 22 people travelling in seven vehicles was ambushed on the road from Beida to Geneina in west Darfur on 1 September.

"The bandits took cash, cameras and other personal belongings and ripped out all VHF communication equipment," the report says. "The bandits then beat the staff members with sticks and rifles while they were lying on the ground. Seventeen persons suffered injuries such as blunt trauma, head injury with stitches, back injuries, haematoma on the scalp, etc."

Aid workers say the security situation has deteriorated badly in recent months. There is a reluctance to speak publicly because of the action taken by the Sudanese government against international workers who have spoken out in the past, but one worker - who did not wish to be named - yesterday described how there were attacks every day in August against aid convoys.

"There has been a massive increase in attacks against humanitarian agencies," the worker said, adding that the victims of the 1 September ambush were also stripped of their clothes during the attack.

"The few cars that were moving have stopped and no-one can use any of the roads outside Geneina [the capital of west Darfur]. People cannot move and that means they can't get to any of the camps in west Darfur."

The worker said that an increase in fighting in north and south Darfur meant that movement there was also restricted and had prompted more villagers to abandon their homes and seek refuge in camps. There had been recent co-ordinated attacks against between 30 and 40 villages prompting thousands of people to flee. Several civilians were killed in a large clash between Sudan Liberation Army rebels and government forces this week.

The AU has sent thousands of troops into Darfur to try to keep the peace between the warring parties and it sends teams of investigators to look into reports of ceasefire violations. Previously confidential reports from AU investigators on attacks which took place earlier this year have now been made available and provide fresh insight into the extent of the brutality faced by the black African farmers driven from their homes by the Sudanese government and its Arab militia allies.

One AU report into an attack on the village of Duma by janjaweed militia details how six fighters executed in cold blood a woman, Miriam Mohammed Abubakat, as she was fetching wood with nine others.

One witness told investigators that one of the janjaweed grabbed Mrs Abubakat: "The woman was trying to loose herself from the man and they fell down on the ground. One of the militia came forward and told his friend who was struggling to pull his head aside so that he could shoot the woman. He then put the muzzle of the gun on her head and shot the woman."

Another handwritten witness statement from a teacher, Omar Ahmed Adam, recounted how the fight had started when the janjaweed began raping the group of women. Mrs Abubakat was killed, he said, because she had refused to submit.

Another report details how 20 Sudanese soldiers murdered a man, Abdul Halim Adam, by shooting him in the back as he drew water at a well in the Abushouk refugee camp. Investigators concluded that the attack had taken place with the full knowledge of the Sudanese police officers in the camp.

The team was also able to gather information about a number of rapes committed against women in the camp. Witnesses told the AU team that Sudanese soldiers were in the habit of visiting the camp to take away girls by force. The girls were taken to unknown locations and raped, the report said.

Other AU reports from earlier in the year describe a number of attacks on villages by armed militias. One report provides a full account of one of the worst incidents, an attack on the village of Khor Abeche in April.

The investigators described how about 200 janjaweed under the command of Nasr Atijani Abdel Gadir attacked at 8am, killing four people, injuring many more and destroying everything except a school, mosque and a few huts. The report said 15 villagers were later declared missing. An AU helicopter was sent to investigate reports of the attack and was able to take pictures of janjaweed attackers mounted on horses and camels and the village ablaze.

Survivors described how the janjaweed had spoiled the wells and left almost 800 people without food. Mohamed Bushm Adam, the village leader, said seven children died because of the water shortage and many villagers were still hiding in the mountains, afraid to return.

Even AU peacekeepers are now coming under direct attack. Five Nigerians with the AU's 6,300-strong contingent in Darfur are known to have died in an attack, blamed on the Sudan Liberation Army, which also killed two civilians earlier this month.

Days later, 38 African Union peacekeepers were taken hostage by rebel forces in Tine near the border with Chad. A dissident faction of Darfur's rebel Justice and Equality Movement was blamed for the attack.

The latest UN report from Darfur paints a grim picture of daily killings and the forced removal of villagers from their homes. The report - which covers just four days in Darfur - notes the discovery of the bodies of two AU peacekeepers, killed in the ambush near Menawashi; an attack on the town of Liria in which 18 people died, 11 of them women; a fight over grazing rights in which an unknown number of people died and 100 families from Wandi were forced from their homes; the ambush of a truck on the near Tore in which four people died; the shooting dead by seven armed bandits of two passengers in a commercial vehicle and theft of six million Sudanese dinar; and the burning of the market in Kafod in which one person was killed and an aid agency forced to relocate its team.

Aid agencies say that without security in the region, they are powerless to help those most in need. Oxfam operates in 16 camps in Darfur but is currently unable to reach five because it is too dangerous to use the roads.

A spokeswoman for Oxfam said clashes between Sudanese government forces and rebels were hampering aid efforts.

"Thousands of people are facing horrific violence every day," she said. "Humanitarian agencies including Oxfam are being targeted. All parties are breaching the ceasefire and it is causing more death and displacement."

source: scotsman

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