UN: Attacks on Darfur villages a 'deliberate' strategy

Attacks on four villages in West Darfur in January and February by the Sudanese armed forces amounted to a “deliberate” military strategy, the United Nations said in a report on Thursday.

The attacks resulted in at least 115 deaths, according to a report issued jointly by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN African Union Mission in Darfur.

“The scale of destruction of civilian property, including objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population, suggests that the damage was a deliberate and integral part of a military strategy,” said the report.

The UN further condemned the attacks as “violations of international humanitarian and human rights law”, saying that they failed to “distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives”.

Sudan has been locked in a serious humanitarian crisis since ethnic minority rebels in Darfur took up arms against Khartoum in 2003.

Arab militias aligned to the Sudanese government have been accused of horrendous violence against civilians in quelling the rebellion.

The United States has described the violence in Darfur as genocide.

In its latest report, the UN detailed attacks in four villages which it described as part of “a major military campaign” launched by the Sudanese government.

It describes the campaign as an attempt to regain control of the northern corridor of West Darfur, and to drive out the Justice and Equality Movement rebel group.

It said that attacks by armed Arab militia on a village called Saraf Jidad took place on three occasions in January and resulted in the displacement of almost the entire population there.

Attackers opened fire at people and torched houses. Food reserves were also deliberately burnt.

At the other three villages of Sirba, Silea and Abu Suruj, aerial bombardments on February 8 were accompanied by ground offensives by armed militia as well as the Sudanese armed forces, it said.

Extensive looting was carried out and “consistent and credible accounts of rape committed by armed uniformed men during and after the attack in Sirba” were also highlighted in the report.

The UN said it was unable to report on similar attacks in Jebel Moon and other areas which also resulted in civilian deaths, as access to Jebel Moon was denied by the Sudan government until March 1.

This is a breach of the government’s obligation to allow UN officials access under an agreement signed in February, said the UN.

The report urged the Sudanese government to cease hostilities in the area, and to refrain from “launching deliberate and indiscriminate aerial attacks against civilians”.

It also asked all parties in the Darfur conflict to respect their obligations, and to refrain from the use of civilians as “human shields”.

The international community should also strongly condemn the attacks and urge all parties to end hostilities and abide by existing ceasefire agreements, the UN said.

The UN says at least 200 000 people have died in Darfur in the past five years and more than two million people have fled their homes. - AFP

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