Darfur death toll mounts amid new war fears

The Darfur conflict claimed more than 2 300 lives in 2010, according to new UN figures released as Western powers expressed renewed alarm on Tuesday over the war.

With growing numbers of abductions and attacks on UN peacekeepers, some diplomats accuse Sudan’s government of stepping up its offensive in the remote western region while international attention is focused on the self-determination vote in south Sudan.

The Sudanese military has frequently refused permission for UN peacekeepers to go to areas where trouble is reported, according to UN officials.

Three Bulgarian air crew on a helicopter carrying World Food Programme supplies were abducted last week and this week troubles flared in the west Darfur town of Nertiti after the killing of a Sudanese intelligence officer.

In December, Tanzanian soldiers at Khor Abeche in southern Darfur even decided to give out their own rations because food supplies were blocked for nearly a week and thousands of extra refugees had headed for the UN base amid renewed fighting, UN officials said.

UN rules say peacekeepers should not give their own food to refugees.

More convoys have been halted around Khor Abeche this week, according to the UN mission in Darfur, UNamid.

At least 2 321 violent deaths were reported in Darfur in 2010, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report. At least 300 000 people have been killed in Darfur since the conflict erupted in 2003 when tribal fighters rose up against the Khartoum government, the UN says.

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is wanted for genocide by the International Criminal Court. He is accused of ordering the campaign by government troops and their Janjaweed militia allies in Darfur.

Lack of security
The renewed fears over the conflict and deadlocked peace talks were highlighted at a UN Security Council meeting on Sudan on Tuesday.

Britain’s ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, who has taken a lead role in Security Council efforts on Darfur, said there was “deep concern” at the renewed hostilities.

Last week’s abduction of the UN air crew “highlights the lack of security and its impact on humanitarian operations in Darfur,” he added.

Lyall Grant called on all rebel groups to join the peace process without delay or pre-conditions.

“These are not sporadic attacks. This is a real war between Sudanese army forces and the rebel groups,” said French ambassador Gerard Araud. “It is at the expense of civilians who are chased, causing deaths and tens of thousands of new displaced.”

US ambassador Susan Rice called on the Sudanese government to “immediately halt aerial bombardments,” adding: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms attacks on civilians.”

She said reaching a ceasefire between government forces and the rebel groups “should be the immediate objective of the peace process.”

The Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minnawi Faction is the only group to have signed up to a 2006 peace accord with the government. But its fighters clashed with army troops last month.

The Sudanese government withdrew its negotiating team from Qatar, where talks with some rebels have been held, in late December but insisted it was not leaving the talks.

South Africa, a new member of the UN Security Council, called for a special international Darfur conference to find a political settlement.

However, one African diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “The Khartoum government is resigned to losing southern Sudan, but it is determined to win back control of Darfur. The referendum in the south has been perfect cover for all sides to open fire again.” – AFP

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