Home | News    Monday 28 June 2004

Thousands leave Sudan refugee camps on eve of Annan, Powell visit: report

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Sudanese refugees walk to their camp after they collected some water in a well at the Sudan-Chad border in Abulu Kore, eastern Chad. By Thomas Coex/AFP

KHARTOUM, June 28 (AFP) — Some 3,000 Sudanese who fled fighting in the troubled Darfur region several months ago have left makeshift camps and returned to their homes around Al-Fashir, a state newspaper said.

The Al-Anbaa report appeared before US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN chief Kofi Annan were due to visit Al-Fashir, in North Darfur state, on a trip to pressure Khartoum to resolve the war raging there.

Both Powell and Annan, due to arrive here Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, are scheduled to tour camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Al-Fashir that Al-Anbaa said are now being voluntarily evacuated by their inhabitants wanting to resume normal lives at home.

The first batch has already "arrived at their villages in Touweila, south of Al-Fashir," said the newspaper.

Soliman Abdallah Adam, governor of Geneina, the capital of war-torn West Darfur state, has said all of them should be out of the camps by the end of August, when the rainy season is likely to make movement difficult.

Local officials have started to distribute 5,000 bags of grain to the returning IDPs and are doing everything to help them resettle, as they assess the immediate needs of other would-be returnees, Al-Anbaa said.

But many IDPs told AFP recently they will stay put until they are satisfied that the causes of their flight have been resolved.

President Omar al-Beshir pledged on Saturday to disarm and rein in the Janjawid militia groups, but residents say that government military aircraft remain in action despite an April 8 ceasefire deal with the rebels.

Monday’s newspaper report coincided with a visit to Al-Fashir by Interior Minister Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein, Bashir’s newly-appointed representative for Darfur.

Hussein has said his mission included "protecting the citizens and their property from outlaws", "securing the safe return of IDPs to their homes" and "insuring the delivery of relief items to them".

Although the government has welcomed Powell and Annan’s upcoming visit, organisers of a massive demonstration in Khartoum, planned to coincide with their trip, said they expected half a million people to turn out.

The demonstration will be staged primarily to protest alleged "US and UN double standards" around the world, particularly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq.

Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail told reporters the authorities had reviewed security arrangements for the visits by Powell and Annan, but the government could not ban Wednesday’s demonstration.

"The government cannot silence the people nor can it ban press freedom. But we hope that the marches would be civilised ones that reflect the culture and values of the Sudanese people," he said.

More than 10,000 people have died in Darfur, one million been displaced and a further 120,000 refugees have poured across the western border into Chad since the rebellion by black African groups against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum broke out in February 2003.

Washington has threatened Sudan with sanctions over the 16-month-old conflict, which the United Nations has labelled the world’s worst ongoing humanitarian crisis.

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