Peace Deal Fails to End Darfur Violence
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning. When the U.N. Security Council meets today it will once again be talking about Darfur. The president of Sudan has told the Council he wants to postpone sending U.N. peacekeepers into the war-torn region. He said local people are strongly opposed to the U.N. and warned that deploying U.N. troops would lead to more violence. But three months after a peace deal was signed in Darfur, the U.N. says children are still being killed and forced into combat. And aid workers say there's an alarming increase in the number of women and girls being raped.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:
The Darfur peace agreement signed in May didn't usher in the hoped-for period of calm. The U.N. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, says violence is increasing and civilians are caught in the crossfire.
Mr. JAN EGELAND (U.N. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs): The situation is really deteriorating beyond belief in Darfur. It was bad, it's now becoming catastrophic.
KELEMEN: More than two million people have been displaced by fighting in Darfur. In one of the largest camps, women are now pleading for help. That's according to Nicky Smith of the International Rescue Committee, an aid group that reported 200 cases of sexual assaults in and around the Kalma camp in the last five weeks alone.
Ms. NICKY SMITH (International Rescue Committee): They asked for their story to be told because they are so exposed at the moment. Each time they leave the camp they're fearful of being either raped or being attacked physically.
KELEMEN: She says the women don't know who to blame, just armed men who attack them when they go out looking for firewood or other supplies.
Ms. SMITH: The peak of sexual violence in Kalma camp is just an indicator of what's happening actually all over Darfur as it spirals out of control.
KELEMEN: Rape has been a common weapon of war in Darfur, including in the early days of the conflict, when government-backed Arab militias went on rampages through villages they said were supporting rebels. Now the security situation is more complicated, with rebels fighting each other and foreign forces from Chad involved as well. Trying to keep the peace in this complex environment is a small and under-funded African Union force, which Smith says doesn't even have enough troops to go out on regular firewood patrols.
Ms. SMITH: This is when the African Union provides some guards for the women when they go out to go and collect firewood. So we've been asking that for the minimum. But in addition there should be just general protection in the environment for all civilians in the displaced camps. I mean, this should be something that they should be providing, particularly around the camps, so that there can be freedom of movement. Not just for the women but also for the men and the children and youth in the camps.
KELEMEN: Violence against children was highlighted in a new report by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. It says that armed groups in Darfur, from the government-backed militias to the various rebel factions, are abducting and recruiting children for war. Thousands of children are said to be actively involved in the conflict. The U.N.'s humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, says the problem is widespread.
Mr. EGELAND: The civilians are really the target of the conflict. It is more dangerous to be women and children, it seems, than to be a soldier. It has to stop, and the only way it can stop is by having a robust U.N. security force on the ground.
KELEMEN: But Sudan is rejecting the idea of a U.N. force and says it plans to send in its own troops to Darfur to restore order. U.N. officials have expressed frustration that they haven't been able to persuade Sudan to accept U.N. troops. Secretary General Kofi Annan is now appealing to U.N. member states with influence in Khartoum to help.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.