Despite insecurity, UNHCR teams comb Darfur to help uprooted Sudanese
GENEVA, Oct. 19 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said today land mines, harassment and militia attacks are continuing to hamper relief work and the return of refugees in western Sudan.
In one of the latest incidents reported, the agency said Janjaweed militia allegedly attacked Abu Surug and Bir Seiba, north of the western Darfur city of Geneina, on Oct. 16, leaving at least 11 people dead and forcing the suspension of relief work in the two villages.
Although hampered by security incidents, UNHCR managed to field five missions recently to Tendelti, Gellu, Mororo and Rigel el Kobri, 20-30 km west of Geneina near the border with Chad, to monitor internal displacement and assess conditions in abandoned and destroyed villages.
Briefing reporters, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said the agency's mobile protection teams found dozens of people who had previously fled Darfur for Chad, but then returned to Sudan expecting to go back to their villages.
"Many of them returned from Chad last July and some were able to go back to their homes. But others are still unable to return home because of security fears," Redmond said.
Redmond said other missions had been made to camps for internally displaced around El Geneina, where the security situation remained "worrisome for both the displaced and international agencies trying to help them."
The teams reported that on Oct. 10 Masteri, south of El Geneina, was declared a "no go" zone after a reported rebel attack on a police station. On the same day, a car from the NGO Save the Children was destroyed by an anti-tank mine in north Darfur, killing two staff members and wounding a third.
One UNHCR mission was aborted by police at gunpoint and another was cancelled by the military, purportedly because of tensions along the way.
"All of this gives you some idea of the difficulties we and our partners are facing in trying to provide at least some protective presence in the region," Redmond said.
The conflict that broke out in Darfur last year has uprooted more than 1.4 million Sudanese, including 200,000 who fled into Chad. UNHCR and other agencies have mounted an assistance programme for the refugees and the internally displaced.
In a separate development, UNHCR and Sudan have finalized plans to repatriate some 1,600 Chadian refugees with Arab origins in Azerni camp 30 km north of El Geneina. They were among 5,000 Chadians who remained in Sudan following the repatriation of some 100,000 of their countrymen who had fled famine and fighting between Libya and Chad in 1984. The Janjaweed attacked Azerni in February, killing six refugees and prompting requests for repatriation assistance.
Most of the refugees are women and children and come from the Abéché, Guéréda, Farchana, Goz Beida, Adré and Iraba areas of eastern Chad, where UNHCR has camps for Sudanese refugees.