Armed men burn village, top UN official decries abuses

Armed men travelling in three vehicles attacked the village of Nortik, 75 km south of El-Fasher, in the Sudanese region of North Darfur on Friday, burning down 48 huts and injuring 18 people, the United Nations reported.

In a situation report issued on Tuesday, the UN said that clashes had also occurred between Sudanese government forces and rebels in two locations in Darfur - along the Tawila-Kabkabiya road and between El-Fasher and Tawila.

The report was issued as the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, said in an interview on the BBC Hard Talk programme that the Sudanese government had not done enough to improve the security situation in Darfur.

"There is still rampant abuse, rape and killing of civilians. We need to see that the Sudanese government is doing its best to disarm Janjawid [pro-government] militias as fast as it can," Egeland said. "The government has not done enough."

About 1.2 million people in Darfur are displaced as a result of the insecurity that has reined there since early 2003, when rebels took up arms against the state to fight against what they said was the marginalisation of their area. In turn, the government turned to militias known as the Janjawid, to help it against the rebels. However, the Janjawid have been attacking - and committing abuses against - civilians. A ceasefire was signed earlier this year but, according to Egeland, both government and rebels had been breaking it.

Some one million internally displaced people now live in camps, according to Egeland, to which they are often confined by the lack of security. "When the women leave the camps, they are raped. When the men try to leave, they are killed," Egeland said. "We could end up with 139 concentration-camp like areas unless the situation improves. Many IDPs do not have drinking water yet, sanitation is bad and diarrhoea is the biggest killer."

Egeland said aid had been getting, against all odds, to the IDPs and that humanitarian agencies "have been able to feed a million people in Darfur in the middle of the rainy season". However, he said the difficult security situation had affected the delivery of aid.

"In Darfur, we are kidnapped, our trucks have been looted by militias. There is a police force, but it is not enough," Egeland said.

He said there were still about 200,000 people whom aid providers had not yet been able to reach, and more assistance was needed from the international community. "If we do not get enough money by the end of the year, we may have to cut resources," Egeland said. He added that many countries did not give as much as they could and he hoped they would give more.

Asked how many people were dying daily in Darfur, Egeland said the UN did not have an exact figure, but that estimated mortality rates were astronomically high in February and March - about 4 to 6 deaths per 10,000 people each day - but has since gone down and now stood at an estimated two out of 10,000.

He urged the Security Council, which is due to meet on Thursday to discus a 30-day deadline it gave Sudan to improve security in the camps, to step up the pressure on the parties. "A lot of women and children are dying as we speak. I hope the Security Council will exercise its obligations," he said. "I would like to see a Council that is continually seized on the matter. I hope it will build the pressure on the parties."

On 30 July, the Council passed a resolution demanding that Sudan disarm the Janjawid militias within 30 days or face further actions.

It demanded that Sudan apprehend and bring to justice the militia leaders and their associates who had incited and committed violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Darfur, and called on the government to immediately fulfill all the commitments it made in a statement issued jointly with the UN Secretary-General on 3 July, in particular by facilitating the distribution of relief aid to those affected by the conflict.

Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Mustafa Osman Ismail said in a statement that the resolution did not address the causes of the Darfur conflict and the 30-day period "was illogical and difficult to be implemented". Instead, he said, Sudan was ready to act on the Darfur situation in 90 days.

Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Wednesday that its three employees who had been held captive by rebels in Darfur, had been released. The three, as well as three members of the Sudanese Red Crescent, disappeared in North Darfur on Saturday afternoon, while they were on a mission to register IDPs, WFP said.

"We are delighted that our people, as well as those working for the Sudanese Red Crescent, have been freed unharmed," WFP Senior Deputy Executive Director, Jean-Jacques Graisse, said. "Their disappearance was a matter of enormous concern to us and we were very relieved to hear of their release."

"We call upon all armed groups in the region to stop targeting those involved in humanitarian work and allow them to do their duty without fear of intimidation," Graisse added. "Any continuation or escalation of incidents such as the one just resolved is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the relief operation."