Home | News    Thursday 17 March 2005

Darfur security worsened in past week-AU envoy

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By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM, March 17 (Reuters) - Security in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region has deteriorated in the past week and political talks must resume as soon as possible, the African Union’s top envoy in Sudan said on Thursday.

The village of Tundubai in Sudan’s Darfur region, presumed to have been burnt down by the marauding Janjaweed Arab militias, is seen in 2004. (AFP).

After a week-long mission to the region where AU forces are monitoring a shaky ceasefire, Baba Gana Kingibe said he was disappointed at a new outbreak of fighting in West Darfur.

He said threats by Arab militias, known locally as Janjaweed, against U.N. workers in Darfur were very serious.

"Unfortunately in the last one week the situation has deteriorated," he told reporters at the airport in Khartoum. He mentioned tensions in rebel-held Muhajiriyah in South Darfur and clashes in West Darfur’s Jabel Moun area.

Kingibe added security could further deteriorate if peace talks did not resume. "We are engaging the Sudanese parties and are urging the early resumption of the peace process," the former Nigerian foreign minister said.

Kingibe also said Darfuris may face serious food shortages, especially if the upcoming rainy season was as poor as the previous year.

"There was a two-month food security gap before. Our estimates now...are giving us a four-month food security gap," he said. "If the rains fail there will be a serious humanitarian situation."

Tens of thousands have been killed in the two-year-old rebellion in Darfur, with thousands dying every month in miserable camps which house the almost 2 million people who have fled their homes in the arid western region the size of France.

The U.N.’s World Food Programme said in a statement it was alarmed at signs of serious food shortages throughout Sudan with poor rains last year across the country.

It said 5.5 million people needed food assistance in Sudan at the moment. "If the numbers continue to rise, Sudan will face a new catastrophe unless more food gets here fast," the WFP country head Ramiro Lopes da Silva said.

JANJAWEED THREATS SERIOUS

Kingibe said he was very concerned by Janjaweed threats against foreign workers in West Darfur. "It’s very, very serious. The Janjaweed are clearly lawless elements...report after report shows they are the major impediment to peace in Darfur."

The top U.N. envoy in Sudan, Jan Pronk, said on Wednesday that 44 U.N. and aid agency staff had been relocated to a regional capital from camps in West Darfur state after Janjaweed threatened to target foreigners and humanitarian convoys.

Darfur rebels took up arms in early 2003 saying the government discriminates against non-Arab tribes in Darfur. The United Nations says Khartoum armed the Janjaweed to fight the two rebel groups, a charge the government denies.

The militias now stand accused of widespread rape, looting, killing and burning in non-Arab villages.

Kingibe said fighting had broken out between a third rebel splinter group and government forces in the rebel National Movement for Reform and Development (NMRD) stronghold in Jabel Moun.

The NMRD signed a ceasefire with the government in December, but said on Wednesday they were abandoning the truce in the face of government attacks on their positions. Kingibe asked Chad, which mediated the ceasefire, to intervene to stop the clashes.

He said the main AU-sponsored peace talks with the two main Darfur rebel groups would restart soon. Several rounds of talks collapsed last year in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

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