UN chief forced to beat hasty retreat from Darfur camp

The United Nations humanitarian chief hurriedly left a Darfur camp for displaced people on Monday when a crowd demonstrating for UN peacekeepers attacked a translator, accusing him of supporting the government, a UN spokesperson said.

Jan Egeland and his entourage cut short their visit to Kalma camp, near Nyala in south Darfur, when elements of a demonstration of 1 000 people manhandled an NGO’s translator, accusing him of working for the Janjaweed, the pro-government militia that is blamed for widespread atrocities in Darfur, spokesperson Dawn Blalock said.

The translator was not injured, but colleagues put him into a van for his own safety, Blalock said in a phone call to The Associated Press.

The demonstrators then picked up sticks and broke the windows of the van and another vehicle in Egeland’s convoy, which left the camp to return to Nyala.

Blalock said the crowd accused the translator of having previously worked for the Janjaweed and of having mistranslated what the demonstrators were saying to members of Egeland’s entourage.

The translator, who was not identified, is employed by Oxfam, which had several staffers travelling with Egeland. The British-based NGO promptly withdrew its six staffers from Kalma camp.

”We did not evacuate,” Blalock stressed. ”The programme was cut short because tensions were too much.”

Egeland, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, had gone to Kalma to meet leaders of the camp’s at-least 90 000 inhabitants and representatives of the NGOs.

Blalock said there had been tension in camp because of the absence of a camp coordinator. The government expelled the last coordinator, an official of the Norwegian Refugee Committee, in early April, she said.

Until the signing of a peace accord on Friday, the Sudanese government had refused to allow a big UN peacekeeping force take over from the relatively small African Union operation that is now operating in Darfur.

Many hold out hope that UN peacekeepers can do more to stabilise Darfur than the AU force now in Darfur. Sudan’s government said on Saturday that the peace accord could open the way to a UN force, a step the government had previously resisted.

After his arrival in Darfur on Sunday, Egeland warned that the peace treaty — signed between the government and only one of three rebel factions — would not be easy to implement.

”We are now in the centre of the war which is still going on,” Jan Egeland told Associated Press Television News. ”The world should have no illusions that peace will break out easily here in Darfur. We have to have an enormous effort from the international community and the parties themselves to enforce this peace agreement.”

Egeland spoke as he visited a camp for some of the two-million people who fled their homes during the three-year rebellion and counter-insurgency. Another 180 000 have died, mainly from disease and hunger.

The UN says that rebel-held areas near the camps that Egeland visited on Sunday had seen major attacks by pro-government militia that had forced 200 000 people to flee in the past three months.

Combatants appeared to be expecting a treaty to come out of the long-running negotiations in Nigeria and have been jockeying to hold the most territory before a cease-fire.

Egeland said on Sunday that thousands of people had been displaced by fighting in recent days and that there could be more fighting.

Aid workers have repeatedly complained that the government has barred them from working, and that fighting has made it impossible for them to help civilians.

Egeland was barred by the Sudanese government from visiting Darfur and Sudan’s capital of Khartoum in April.

Decades of low-level tribal clashes over land and water in Darfur erupted into large-scale violence in early 2003 when members of the African ethnic tribes rose in revolt and demanded regional autonomy. The government is accused of unleashing Arab militiamen, the Janjaweed, who have been blamed for widespread killing, rape and destruction.

The government denies supporting the Arab militia. — Sapa-AP

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