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UNHCR gravely concerned over attack on Darfur camp

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UNHCR gravely concerned over attack on Darfur camp

29 September 2005

Thursday 29 September 2005

UNHCR expressed grave concern Thursday over an unprecedented attack on a camp for thousands of internally displaced persons in Sudan's West Darfur region that reportedly left 29 people dead and another 10 seriously wounded.

Initial reports received by UNHCR indicate a group of 250-300 armed Arab men on horses and camels attacked Aro Sharow camp, in northern West Darfur, on Wednesday afternoon, sending thousands of camp residents fleeing into the insecure countryside. The attackers reportedly burned about 80 makeshift shelters - about one-quarter of the camp's households.

Aro Sharow is located 16 km north of the town of Saleah. Between 4,000-5,000 internally displaced Sudanese were believed living in the camp, and most reportedly fled into the surrounding countryside. The nearby village of Gosmeina was also reportedly attacked and burned. Initial reports indicated there were 29 dead and 10 seriously wounded.

High Commissioner António Guterres called on the Sudanese government to do everything it could meet its responsibility to protect the internally displaced in Darfur.

"As long as this insecurity continues, the international community cannot provide the assistance that is so desperately needed by hundreds of thousands of people," said Guterres. "The government of Sudan has a responsibility to ensure security for all of its citizens."

UNHCR, which carries out protection monitoring in West Darfur, has three offices in the region, with five more planned. But the Jebel Moon area around Aro Sharow has been a no-go zone for the United Nations for several months because of continuing insecurity. A UNHCR team did manage to visit the camp last October. Many residents of the Jebel Moon area had earlier fled to the Chad border in 2003-04, then returned to Jebel Moon in May 2004 following a government -announced peace agreement.

Aid workers familiar with the region said the Aro Sharow residents stayed in the camp at night for safety reasons, but would return to their nearby villages during the day to cultivate their fields.

The attack follows a series of worrisome security incidents throughout Darfur. UNHCR is concerned that the deterioration in security is preventing the provision of vital aid to tens of thousands of internally displaced people in Darfur and could prompt them to flee again - possibly to neighbouring Chad, which is already struggling to cope with more than 200,000 refugees from Sudan.

There are an estimated 2 million internally displaced people in Darfur, including 715,700 in West Darfur; 770,800 in South Darfur, and 480,000 in North Darfur.