Sunday, October 23, 2005

Gunfire in West Darfur main town in Sudan - sources

Sun Oct 23, 2005 11:58 AM GMT

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Heavy gunfire in West Darfur's main town kept aid staff locked in their homes in the latest violence in the remote region bordering Chad, sources in the aid community and U.N. officials said on Sunday.

Aid workers have been confined to el-Geneina after clashes and armed looters closed all the roads out of the town to U.N. staff.

Non-essential staff have been preparing for a possible full evacuation if the violence escalates, U.N. officials have said.

"There was firing heard in seven or eight locations in the town last night," said one source, who declined to be named.

"Police said it was drunk soldiers who had been paid early because of Eid," the source added. Eid is the Muslim holiday which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

George Somerwill, a U.N. spokesman, confirmed there was gunfire in the town but could give no further details.

"There was gunfire heard during the night in el-Geneina town and aid workers were confined to their houses," he said.

The government often threatens aid agencies with closure if they comment on the security situation in Darfur.

Authorities have arrested senior Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) workers and ordered heads of British aid agencies Oxfam and Save the Children to leave the country for publishing information on Darfur.

Another U.N. source said aid workers were confined to their residences all night but were allowed to move again early this morning after the gun battles stopped. The police said they had fired back at the soldiers, the source added.

Government officials in el-Geneina were not immediately available for comment.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million forced from their homes during a 2-1/2-year conflict in Darfur. There are almost 11,000 aid workers in the region.

The United States called the violence genocide and blamed the government and its allied Arab militias, known locally as Janjaweed. Khartoum denies the charge but the International Criminal Court (ICC) is investigating alleged war crimes committed during the revolt.


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