Joint mission reviews implementation of Darfur pledges

A team of United Nations and Sudanese government officials arrived in the western Sudanese Darfur region on Thursday to assess the implementation of Khartoum's promises to restore calm in the area, officials said.

The three-day Joint Implementation Mechanism (JIM) mission is visiting Darfur to review the implementation of a plan of action in which Khartoum undertook to improve security and disarm militias accused of committing atrocities against civilians.

The mission, which includes the UN special envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk, and Sudan's Foreign Minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, will present its findings to the UN Security Council, which will decide next week whether Sudan is making good on commitments to restore security and disarm the militias responsible for killings and massive displacement.

The Council had given Sudan until 30 August to show that it was making tangible progress in addressing the Darfur crisis or face punitive measures, including possible sanctions. In response, Sudan formulated the action plan.

On Thursday, Pronk and Ismail met with the Wali [governor] of West Darfur State in the town of El-Geneina. He assured them that all was calm after the deployment of more police and that there were no militias harassing civilians in the area, a source close to the mission told IRIN.

More than 1.2 million people have been displaced by conflict in Darfur, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Another estimated 200,000 Darfurians have sought refuge in neighbouring Chad.

Most fled their home villages because of attacks by militias known as the Janjawid, and clashes between government forces and two rebel groups that took up arms early last year to fight what they said was the marginalisation of the region by the government.

Khartoum has been accused of aiding and abetting the Janjawid in their violent campaign against civilians, but the government has denied that its forces were allied to the militia.

Khartoum's action plan, unveiled during the third meeting of the JIM in Khartoum on 13 July, includes a plan to create safe areas for civilians within a month.

On Wednesday, Pronk said the government had made some positive efforts to comply with Security Council demands on Darfur, but the implementation of steps to improve the situation in the troubled region, especially security for internally displaced persons, was still "mixed".

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday there were still 16 camps for Janjawid militias in Darfur. "Throughout the time Khartoum was supposedly reining in the Janjawid, these camps have been operating in plain sight," Peter Takirambudde, executive director of HRW’s Africa division said in a statement. "These Janjawid camps should be immediately investigated by the UN and the African Union ceasefire monitors, then disbanded."

"The existence of these Janjawid camps shows clearly that Khartoum is not at all serious about ending atrocities and providing security," Takirambudde said. "The fact that there are still armed camps filled with killers terrorizing civilians in Darfur makes it impossible for people to go home."

According to HRW, the camps were located within kilometers of internally displaced persons camps, such as those at Masry, Kutum and Um Sayala in North Darfur, and near Nyala in South Darfur.