29 killed in attack on Darfur camp: UNHCR gravely concerned
GENEVA, September 29 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency expressed grave concern Thursday over an unprecedented attack on a camp for thousands of internally displaced people in Sudan's West Darfur region that reportedly left 29 dead and another ten 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 the northern part of West Darfur, on Wednesday afternoon, sending thousands of camp residents fleeing into the countryside. The attackers reportedly burned about 80 makeshift shelters - about one-quarter of the total number in the camp. Initial reports indicated that 29 people were killed and 10 seriously wounded.
While many villages have been attacked in this way, this was the first such direct attack on a camp for displaced people anywhere in Darfur since the conflict began in early 2003.
Aro Sharow is located 16 km north of the town of Saleah. Between 4,000 and 5,000 internally displaced Sudanese were believed to be living in the camp, and most have apparently fled. The nearby village of Gosmeina was also reportedly attacked and burned.
High Commissioner António Guterres called on the Sudanese government to do everything it could meet its responsibility to protect the internally displaced people 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. 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.
Before the conflict began in Darfur, Aro Sharow was a small village with about 300 inhabitants. As people fled 26 other nearby villages because of regular armed attacks and raids in the area, it developed into a major camp. 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 own villages during the day to cultivate their fields.
The attack is the latest and most serious in a series of alarming 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 in an extremely hostile physical environment with a very limited water supply.
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.