U.N. Issues New Warning on Darfur Violence

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The United Nations is raising alarms about the situation in western Sudan, where fighting continues despite a peace deal signed in May. Violence is rampant and aid workers have had their most difficult month to date.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The United Nations is again raising alarms about the situation in Darfur. The government of Sudan is said to be preparing for a new offensive despite a peace deal that was signed in May. Aide workers are faced with new dangers, violence and intimidation.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Darfur has never been an easy place for aide workers. Banditry on the roads has been a common complaint. But according to the U.N. there has been an unprecedented number of attacks in the past months, with at least eight aide workers killed. Bruno Jockum(ph) of the Swiss Branch of Doctors Without Borders says so many trucks and cars have been hijacked on the roads that aide workers with his organization can't move around much anymore.

Mr. BRUNO JOCKUM (Doctors Without Borders): I would say that in almost all locations today, we've stopped using roads. We're in a situation where we have become entirely dependent on United Nations helicopter movements.

KELEMEN: Doctors Without Borders have suspended the work of its mobile clinics, he says, and is having a much harder time helping people get to hospitals for operations.

Mr. JOCKUM: The biggest consequence is not being able to refer the most severe patients, especially those who need surgical care. In some areas we've been forced to evacuate completely some projects.

KELEMEN: Jockum says the main victims of renewed violence are the more than two million displaced civilians who he says are practically prisoners in their camps. The conflict started three and a half years ago when rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government and the government responded in what the U.S. has called a genocidal counterinsurgency campaign.

A peace agreement in May has complicated matters because only one of three rebel leaders signed it and now rebels are fighting among each other. Nicki Smith, the Sudan country representative for the International Rescue Committee says the situation in the camps is tense.

Ms. NICKI SMITH (International Rescue Committee): Since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement its created a sort of polarization within the camps and that's created increased tension, so you know, you see things being triggered very quickly in this environment now. It can move quickly into physical violence or demonstrations, which can be quite frightening.

KELEMEN: She says at one camp in Darfur, there are more than 14,000 new arrivals and many of them are women and their children. She says many women who go out of the camps for firewood have been raped and the African Union troops that are the only international peacekeepers in Darfur haven't had the resources to protect civilians.

Ms. SMITH: The African Union needs to scale up. They need to provide a 24 hour, seven days a week presence. They need to provide regular patrols which will allow freedom of movement for the civilians. It's really critical that civilian protection is prioritized by the African Union but also by the United Nations.

KELEMEN: The U.N. Security Council has been talking for months about having the U.N. take over from the African Union. Last week the U.S. and Britain drafted a resolution that calls for more than 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers. But Sudan has balked at the idea and says it plans to send its own troops to restore order. The U.N.'s number two official, Mark Malloch Brown, says he's worried.

Mr. MARK MALLOCH BROWN (United Nations): Please don't forget Darfur. It's very, very important that we all pay lots of attention to Darfur. Something very ugly is brewing there.

KELEMEN: He's trying to draw attention to Darfur at a time with the U.N. is already struggling to put together a more robust peace keeping force for Southern Lebanon.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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