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Gunmen attack displaced camp in Darfur

Displaced children stand at the UNAMID base for displaced people in Saraf Omra, North Darfur, on March 18, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/UNAMID/ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN)

KHARTOUM: Gunmen have attacked and burned a camp for displaced people in Sudan’s Darfur region, peacekeepers said Monday, adding to an upsurge of suspected militia violence that has wreaked havoc recently.

The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has reported a series of attacks on villages in the region this month, but the Khor Abeche camp in South Darfur assaulted Saturday was an unusual target.

Recent unrest and a soaring number of displaced people has evoked comparisons with the early stages of war in Darfur, which captured the world’s attention more than a decade ago.

“The situation in Darfur is beginning to deteriorate for the worse, and has gone back to the days of deepening crisis 10 years ago, and even surpassing it,” veteran columnist Mahjoub Mohamed Salih wrote in Monday’s The Citizen.

Events in the region “are heading towards catastrophic results” without a quick correction, he said.

UNAMID said in a statement that about 300 heavily armed men attacked the camp, “setting fire to dozens of shelters and stealing livestock belonging to the residents.”

About 3,000 sought refuge at the nearby UNAMID base but one person who could not flee apparently died in the blaze, UNAMID said.

The attack occurred about 75 kilometers northeast of the South Darfur state capital Nyala.

On the same day, hundreds of families approached another UNAMID base, in Korma North Darfur, reporting that nearby Kobe town had been attacked.

“One fatality was reported, alongside the looting of property and burning of houses,” said UNAMID, which deployed additional peacekeepers after about 1,000 people sought safety at their compound.

Korma is northwest of Al-Fashir, the state capital.

Local sources said militiamen were suspected in the latest attacks.

Rebels from Darfur’s black tribes rose up in 2003 seeking an end to what they said was the domination of Sudan’s power and wealth by Arab elites.

In response, government-backed Janjaweed, recruited among the region’s Arab tribes, shocked the world with atrocities.

Over the past two years, Sudan’s deteriorating economy has led to worsening crime and intercommunal clashes, a February report by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said.

It added that some cash-poor paramilitaries have joined the tribal fighting over gold and other resources.

Analysts say the government can no longer control its former Arab tribal allies, whom it armed against the insurgents.

“The situation is compounded by the conflicts between groups affiliated to the ruling party,” columnist Salih wrote, referring to a dispute between North Darfur governor Osman Kbir and Musa Hilal, who was reputed to be a Janjaweed leader and later became an adviser to the Federal Affairs Ministry.

The U.N. said an estimated 65,000 people fled their homes around Saraf Omra town, in western North Darfur earlier this month, after clashes between government forces and paramilitaries led by Hilal.

Most of those forced to flee Saraf Omra have since returned home.

They are among roughly 215,000 whom the U.N. says have been uprooted this year by Darfur fighting.

That is on top of at least 380,000 people displaced last year, a higher number than in any single year since the peak of the conflict in 2004.

“More than at any point since the Darfur crisis started a decade ago, the people of Darfur need the immediate support of the humanitarian community,” the U.N.’s chief in Sudan, Ali Al-Zaatari, said Sunday.

A humanitarian crisis in Sudan is the result of continuous war, especially in Darfur, the pro-government Sudan Vision daily said in a weekend editorial.

It warned that perpetuation of armed conflict “will lead at the end to the collapse of the state.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 25, 2014, on page 9.

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Summary

Gunmen have attacked and burned a camp for displaced people in Sudan's Darfur region, peacekeepers said Monday, adding to an upsurge of suspected militia violence that has wreaked havoc recently.

The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has reported a series of attacks on villages in the region this month, but the Khor Abeche camp in South Darfur assaulted Saturday was an unusual target.

Recent unrest and a soaring number of displaced people has evoked comparisons with the early stages of war in Darfur, which captured the world's attention more than a decade ago.

The attack occurred about 75 kilometers northeast of the South Darfur state capital Nyala.

The U.N. said an estimated 65,000 people fled their homes around Saraf Omra town, in western North Darfur earlier this month, after clashes between government forces and paramilitaries led by Hilal.


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