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03 Mar 2008 17:48
The United Nations in Sudan accused a rebel group on Monday of blocking access to a mountainous area in Darfur where 20 000 people are trapped after fighting between the government and rebels.
Ameerah Haq, the UN humanitarian chief for Sudan, said an assessment mission to the Jabel Moun area was denied access by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
“We as a humanitarian community want unimpeded access,” she told a news conference, calling on JEM “to give us that access”.
Al-Tahir al-Feki, a JEM official, said the group has not received any UN request to visit the area in western Darfur, where he said civilians were staying without shelter after government attacks.
“If the UN submits a request, they will be most welcomed,” he said by telephone.
Asked in an interview with the BBC whether people in the area were now trapped, Haq said: “Yes, in a sense they are.”
She said there was concern about their welfare.
“We have no access to them and we are worried.”
She said the UN had reports of government troop movements in the area. “We don’t know what the security conditions are.”
Darfur has been beset by strife since early 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government, accusing Khartoum of neglect.
Rebel splits and the government’s mobilisation of mostly Arab tribal militia has created a chaotic mix of armed groups and a breakdown of law and order.
International experts estimate that 200 000 people have died and more than two million been displaced since the violence flared.
The Sudanese army said it had launched a “cleansing” operation in February to open the way for humanitarian access and to rid the area of Darfur and Chadian insurgents.
Witnesses said government-allied militia and bombing raids had killed 114 people in a February 8 offensive on towns and villages in the West Darfur state. The army denies any link to the militia, known as the Janjaweed, and says many of those killed were rebels in civilian clothes.
The UN said the attacks forced 13 000 people to flee to Jabel Moun, joining a resident population of 7 000.
Haq, who visited western Darfur twice in the last two weeks, told reporters up to 58 000 civilians in the state “remain affected” after the February offensive.
“We have a population attacked by soldiers from all sides, from all parties,” she said.
Feki said JEM troops still controlled “100%” of Jabel Moun, but a Sudanese army spokesperson said government forces “control Jabel Moun from the east, west and all directions”.
In addition to the burning of homes, the UN team said they had seen that schools, clinics, water systems and aid agencies’ compounds had either been looted or destroyed.
Sudan has agreed to allow the deployment of a 26 000-strong UN and African Union peacekeeping force, known as UNamid, but only 9 000 troops have deployed so far.—Reuters
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