Aid Agencies Targeted in Darfur Conflict

As fighting continues to rage in Sudan's beleaguered Darfur region, international aid agencies are finding themselves the targets of attack from all sides involved.

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Secretary General Kofi Annan told the U.N. Security Council this week that Sudan's armed forces and other militias continue to commit human rights abuses in the country's Darfur region. Reporter David McGuffin recently traveled to North Darfur, and he reports that the fighting there is making it increasingly difficult for aid agencies to help millions of refugees.

DAVID McGUFFIN: North Darfur's sprawling Abu Shouk refugee camp, set on a dust-blown, treeless plain. It is home to 40,000 people, one of several camps surrounding al-Fasher, Darfur's biggest city. Makeshift straw thatch and wood huts roofed by blue plastic sheeting sprawl in all directions, covering endless miles.

Here, on a slight rise in the north of the camp, the World Food Program is distributing food aid. A long line of women wait patiently, ration cards in hand, wrapped head to foot in brightly colored cotton shawls against the blazing 120 degree heat of the noon day sun. Despite the arrival of food on this day, there are still huge problems in this and the dozens of other camps across the region. Aid workers say cholera and other diseases are killing dozens of people every day. And rebels, government backed militias and bandits regularly attack the fringes of the camps - looting, raping, kidnapping.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

MCGUFFIN: This man's wife was murdered at a camp two weeks ago. He didn't want to be identified for fear of reprisal. It was about 9:30 at night, he says. Two people knocked on the door. They told my wife to open up. When she refused, they shot her dead. And it's not just Darfuris who are being targeted. So too are the people who are trying to help: international aid agencies. Chris Cherwinski(ph) heads the World Food Program's operation in North Darfur.

Mr. CHRIS CHERWINSKI (World Food Program): For example, two truck were hijacked, and it took us about ten days of negotiation to get the trucks and the drivers back.

MCGUFFIN: Cherwinski says this latest upsurge in violence has left hundreds of thousands of those most in need beyond his agency's reach in North Darfur alone.

Mr. CHERWINSKI: Last month we were supposed to feed about one million people and only managed to get to about 650,000.

MCGUFFIN: And it goes beyond feeding the hungry. The risks that come with providing relief is hitting a wide spectrum of aid agencies operating here. Twelve humanitarian workers have been killed in Darfur in the past four months, more than the previous three years combined. Now groups that offer everything from medical care to education have drastically scaled back. Here at Tawila, right in the middle of the expansive Darfur, there are 30,000 refugees. There is not one humanitarian organization left here to help them. Mary Awooney(ph) is a Ghanaian civilian police officer. She is part of the tiny African Union peace mission outpost at Tawila. She says the withdrawal of aid agencies has had a lethal effect.

Ms. MARY AWOONEY (Ghanaian Police Officer): And now that these health workers have been threatened and hijacked their vehicles and gone, in a day - I think about four people, four to five. A lot of barriers all over. This can also cause epidemic.

MCGUFFIN: The Tawila African Union outpost has only 150 soldiers and police. They are not just responsible for the refugee camp but for hundreds of square miles of territory as well. With the government now launching a new military offensive all around them, they just aren't up to the task. Women are especially vulnerable here. Rape, even gang rape, is commonplace, says Awooney, with attackers coming from all sides.

Ms. AWOONEY: No matter when these men go out to fetch for firewood, or when they go to the (unintelligible) that is when they use to get them. And it's normally done - it's a gang rape. It's happening right now while I'm talking. They're happening.

MCGUFFIN: So much violence and suffering. And yet, from the perspective of these refugees, it seems that less and less is being done to bring it to an end. For NPR News, I'm David McGuffin, Abu Shouk refugee camp, Darfur.

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