Violence shuts down WFP operations in North Darfur

Renewed clashes between government troops and rebel fighters in the western Sudan state of North Darfur has forced the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to temporarily suspend its operations, except in the state capital El-Fasher, WFP said on Thursday.

"This affects about 300,000 displaced people, who are now cut off from aid," Peter Smerdon, WFP spokesman told IRIN in Nairobi. "It doesn't mean they are going to run out of food tomorrow because some of them just got their rations, but if this situation continues for sometime, they will be out of food."

According to Smerdon, the decision to close the operation followed "months and months of insecurity" in the region. "It has made our work extremely difficult," he told IRIN on Thursday. "The situation is not dire, but we need to have free access because you cannot just divert food convoys."

In a statement, WFP said a truck convoy carrying 235 mt of food from El-Fasher to distribution hubs in Tawillah and Kapkabiya towns was halted by the fighting, threatening aid delivery to 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).

According to relief workers, the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) launched attacks on government positions over the weekend, taking control of Tawillah on Monday. The rebels had earlier attacked the West Darfur town of Geraida, forced the police to leave and raised their flag in the town.

The sources told IRIN that some 50-60 SLA fighters also attacked a police station in a camp for displaced people near Kalma, in South Darfur, on Monday morning, killing a policemen. Three SLM/A fighters also died.

WFP said the situation in West Darfur, near the capital El-Geneina, had also remained volatile, with reports of raiding and looting by the Janjawid [government allied militias] on African villages. This was done by African Zaghawa tribesmen against Arab villages and by units of the National Movement for Reform and Development, a new rebel group that appeared to have split from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

On Tuesday the UN condemned the escalating violence, saying it threatened ongoing relief activities, violated recently signed ceasefire accords between the government and rebels, and placed tens of thousands of civilians at risk.

"The parties have committed themselves to refrain from all hostilities and military actions," the UN envoy for Sudan, Jan Pronk, said in a statement on Tuesday. "I fully expect them to live up to their obligations."

The parties, Pronk added, "should understand that the recent aggression goes directly against the spirit and letter of the Abuja Protocols and cannot be justified on the basis of self defence or grievances that predate the 9 November agreement to cease hostile actions".

The Protocols on the Improvement of the Humanitarian Situation and on the Enhancement of the Security Situation in Darfur were signed in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, by the government and the SLM/A and JEM.

The attacks started days after the UN Security Council, which met in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on 18 and 19 November, adopted a resolution demanding that the government, rebel forces and other armed groups in Darfur cease all violence and ensure that their members comply with international humanitarian law.

On Monday, the humanitarian agency Save the Children (SCF) flew its staff out of Tawillah as a result of the fighting. "Both sides have demonstrated utter disregard for the ceasefire," Toby Porter, director of emergencies at SCF said in a statement.