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UN agency quits Darfur border amid new bombings

The United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday it had withdrawn a team caring for refugees from the Chad/Darfur border after fresh aerial bombing in the conflict-riven Sudanese province.

“Aerial bombardment overnight and this morning in West Darfur, Sudan, close to the border with Chad, has forced UNHCR to withdraw its team caring for newly arrived refugees in the Birak area away from the insecure border,” spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told journalists.

Seven refugees from Darfur crossed the border into Chad on Monday night, carrying with them a 55-year-old woman who had lost both her legs during an alleged bombardment of the Aro Sharow camp for internally displaced people, north of Jebel Moon in West Darfur, Pagonis said.

The woman later died at Birak’s health centre, and the refugees said more people would now be fleeing to Chad.

“We have no further details of the alleged bombing raid but bombing could be heard from Birak,” Pagonis said.

“This highlights the extremely vulnerable situation of the refugees and the humanitarian workers helping them,” she added.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said at least 10 000 people had fled Darfur following heavy bombardment and aerial attacks by the Sudanese army and its Janjaweed militia allies on February 8.

“More arrivals are still expected and with the fresh bombing we can expect more displacement in West Darfur,” Pagonis said.

Chad’s Prime Minister Delwa Kassire Coumakoye said last week that the influx of refugees from Darfur was “harmful … for our people” and they should be taken home.

Chad has already taken in more than 240 000 refugees from Darfur.

International organisations estimate that 200 000 people have died across the border in Darfur since 2003 and more than two million displaced, but the Khartoum government refutes these figures and puts the death toll at 9 000. – AFP

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