Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Darfur: Aid workers shot by unknown gunmen as situation worsens

Four peacekeepers were shot and wounded in an attack yesterday on the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), as concern grew over the safety of aid workers who have been ordered to leave the region following the indictment of the Sudanese president.

In yesterday’s incident, a UNAMID patrol returning to its base in El Geneina, West Darfur was attacked by unknown armed men who fired at the vehicle with small arms.

The injured personnel, one of them seriously hurt, were evacuated by helicopter to the Mission’s hospital in El Fasher, North Darfur, where their conditions were listed as stable and not life-threatening.

Violence against UNAMID personnel and banditry have increased over the past six weeks in West Darfur, and the number of incidents until now in 2009 have exceeded those for the entirety of 2008, a UN spokesperson said today.

Yesterday alone, beside the attack on the patrol, a UNAMID vehicle was carjacked in El Fasher, and military observers en route to a team site in El Daein were shot at.

“UNAMID strongly condemns these acts of violence against its peacekeepers who are in Darfur to help bring peace and stability to the region and for the benefit of the population,” UN spokesperson Marie Okabe said in New York.

Meanwhile, during the past 24 hours, UNAMID said it continued to patrol Darfur to protect civilians, conducting some 47 military patrols and 96 police patrols in and around villages and camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

On the humanitarian front, Ms. Okabe said that the United Nations remains highly concerned over the safety of national and international staff in light of repeated reports of intimidation and seizure of property.

Sudan decided to begin ejecting 13 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Wednesday, immediately after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Al-Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.

“Despite assurances given by the Sudanese Government that harassment and seizure of assets would stop, such reports continued to be received daily,” Ms. Okabe said, citing a report from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Assets confiscated from the organizations include computers, vehicles and communications equipment, as well as essential data, she said.

There have been no further revocations of permission to work, according to OCHA, which warned, however, that the rainy season was now coming up and the country would soon be split in two due to the rains, so it was urgent to pre-position food and other vital supplies in the areas they were needed as soon as possible.

Because of the ejections of the NGOs, some 1.5 million people are now at risk in terms of health, OCHA warned, saying that an estimated 1.2 million people risked having no more access to potable water and hygiene programmes in the weeks to come.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said it is currently working 24 hours a day with its UN partners and its technical partners in the various ministries, but it could not make up for the missing NGOs.

The World Food Programme (WFP), meanwhile, says that four of the expelled non-governmental organizations were crucial partners who were providing 35 per cent of its food distribution capacity in Darfur, distributing food to 1.1 million people plus 5,500 malnourished children and mothers receiving supplementary feeding.

To fill the gap left by the NGOs, the agency was planning a one-time distribution of enough food for two months through local food relief committees.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned more than 1.5 million persons would no longer have access to primary healthcare, and that immunizations would be disrupted, with the greatest threat being an outbreak of meningitis reported in the Kalma Camp that currently houses 89 000 people.

The UN and the Sudanese Government have agreed meanwhile that three joint teams, composed of experts from both sides, would visit Darfur to conduct an assessment of critical short-term needs in four sectors: food, nutrition, water, and emergency shelter.

An estimated 300,000 people have died and another 3 million have been displaced in Darfur, where rebels have been fighting Government forces and allied Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, since 2003.

Source: UN News Centre
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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