Home | News    Wednesday 6 December 2006

UN pulls out non-essential staff from Darfur town

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Dec 6, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — The United Nations has airlifted dozens of its own and other agencies’ staff out of the main Darfur town of El Fasher and said on Wednesday it was prepared for more evacuations if the already tense situation worsens.

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Internally displaced children between United Nations cars in Kalma camp near Nyala town in Sudan’s southern Darfur region, January 2005. (AFP).

The evacuations came a day after the African Union said rebel groups could attack El Fasher within 24 hours. It added that the AU base in the town was a possible target.

"The rationale behind the decision is the heightened security concerns we have as a result of the increased presence of the Janjaweed (militia) in the town of El Fasher and (the presence of) other armed groups in the area," Radhia Achouri, U.N. spokeswoman in Sudan, told Reuters.

The United Nations said 82 of the 134 non-essential staff that left El Fasher on Tuesday night were it own workers and the remainder were from other agencies.

"If the tension subsides we will go back in. If it gets worse we can pull more people out. We are prepared to take more flights today," said Dawn Blaloc, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The Janjaweed entered El Fasher on Monday and started looting the cattle market before clashing with members of the SLM armed wing, witnesses and former rebels said. The African Union said two SLM fighters and two militia members were killed.

One resident in the town said scores of students took to the streets to protest the killing of two of their colleagues by Janjaweed militias on Tuesday.

"Police fired shots in the air to disperse the protestors," he told Reuters by telephone on condition of anonymity. Another witness said earlier all markets and schools in the town were also closed.

The African Union, which maintains a 7,000-strong force in Darfur, had no immediate comment on the latest situation.

But the AU, blamed by many of doing too little to stop the violence in Darfur, has warned any group against attacking its mission in El Fasher.

Rights group say Khartoum used largely Arab militias known locally as Janjaweed as a proxy force to quell the rebellion which flared in Darfur in 2003.

Under a May peace agreement signed between the ruling National Congress Party government and one rebel faction, Khartoum was to have disarmed the Janjaweed, which the government calls outlaws.

But the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) faction that signed the May deal has accused Khartoum of rearming the militias.

SLM spokesman Saif Haroun said the movement reserved the right to defend its people against the Janjaweed if the AU and the government failed to do so.

Noureddine Mezni, the African Union spokesman in Sudan, said the committee in charge of implementing the May peace deal would meet later on Wednesday to review the situation in Darfur and would take decisions to improve it.

Experts say around 200,000 people were killed in Darfur and 2.5 million displaced since rebel groups took up arms against the government, charging it with neglect.

(Reuters)

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