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U.N. Aid Chief Tours Darfur's Refugee Camps

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U.N. Aid Chief Tours Darfur's Refugee Camps


U.N. Aid Chief Tours Darfur's Refugee Camps

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

We begin this hour with the war in Darfur in western Sudan, which has been going on for more than four years now. A peace deal was signed last year, but fighting continues between African rebels and Arab militias known as Janjaweed backed by Sudanese government troops.

Civilians remain the main victims. More than 200,000 people have been killed and millions have been displaced. It is rare to get first-hand reports from Darfur. The Sudanese government in Khartoum is reluctant to allow foreigners access to the territory and has even accused aid workers of inflating the crisis.

The new head of the U.N. World Food Program is visiting Darfur and invited NPR's Africa correspondent, Gwen Thompkins, to go with her. Gwen joins us now from Al-Fasher in northern Darfur. And Gwen, I gather you've been visiting camps for displaced people. What have you seen?

GWEN THOMPKINS: Well, I began the day in Al-Fasher, which is a town in the north of Darfur. And we visited two camps, one called Kassab, which has about 22,000 residents, and another one called Abu Shouk, which is a camp of about 54,000 residents.

Now, these are two of many camps in this region both in northern Darfur, western Darfur, southern Darfur. The place is filled with camps that house about two million people, two of the six million people who live in Darfur.

BLOCK: Gwen, what have you heard about security for these displaced people both inside the camps and if they venture outside?

THOMPKINS: Well, you know, in the past several months, there has been a real increase in the number of people who are leaving the rural areas and coming to the camps for shelter, which suggests that security is a real problem here.

And now that they're in the camps, they're still not safe or immune from violence. Obviously, there have been many stories about women who've gone out into the - away from the camps looking for firewood and other resources who have been attacked, raped in some instances. Men are not really doing a whole lot better here either.

BLOCK: There have been a number of attacks on relief workers in Darfur - a number of aid groups that have actually pulled out because of these attacks. What have you heard about that?

THOMPKINS: I've heard quite a lot about that over the past few days. Aid groups here are really in a pickle, particularly the ones that are working along the border with Chad - this is in the El-Geneina area, and is right near the Chadian border.

And rebels are coming from Chad, you know, across the border into Sudan and they are attacking aid workers, carjacking them. Carjacking is the number one problem here. At the beginning of this year - the first three months of this year - I believe 17 U.N. vehicles were taken by carjackers.

BLOCK: So again, these attacks on relief workers are not coming from either the Arab militias or the government troops. They're coming from the rebels, you're saying?

THOMPKINS: Well, the humanitarian workers are very quick to say that they don't want to be caught up in the political situation here. So what they do say is that there is a no group that is innocent in this situation, but there is no group that is completely guilty either.

BLOCK: There are about 7,000 troops from the African Union that have been in Darfur for the past year. What kind of security are they able to provide people?

THOMPKINS: Well, not much. You know, not much at all, Melissa. In fact, the AU troops have really been under siege from the same groups that are preying on the residents of Darfur. Essentially, the African Union troops are here - many of them have not been paid in months.

And they are providing security for many of the U.N. humanitarian workers here as well as other humanitarian workers. They're still showing up to work every day. But they are receding back to their compounds early, you know, curfew is about 6 o'clock, and they don't come out because they are targets here.

And that's one of the sadder stories of Darfur because here, people who've been dispatched to protect the residents and they have, in fact, become targets.

BLOCK: NPR's Gwen Thompkins speaking with us from Al-Fasher in northern Darfur, Sudan. Gwen, thanks very much.

THOMPKINS: Thank you, Melissa.

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