AU accuses gov’t forces of attacking civilians in Darfur

KHARTOUM (AFP) — The African Union Mission in Sudan has accused government forces and Arab militias of launching joint attacks on villages and refugee camps in Darfur, in which at least 44 civilians were killed.
These include an attack Wednesday on the Aro Sharow refugee camp in which the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said 34 people died.

“A number of coordinated offensive operations have been undertaken by the GOS [government of Sudan] and the Janjaweed Arab militia,” Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe told journalists in Khartoum on Saturday.

Coordinated attacks on a number of villages in North Darfur on September 18 “resulted in the death of 12 civilians, five seriously wounded and the displacement of about 400 civilians.

“Heavy and small weapons mounted on vehicles were reportedly used by GOS, in close coordination with about 300 Janjaweed Arab militia,” Kingibe said.

Separately, “some reportedly 400 Janjaweed Arab militia on camels and horseback went on the rampage in Aro Sharow, Acho and Gozmena villages in West Darfur” on Wednesday, he said.

“Our reports indicate that the previous day and indeed on the actual day of the attack GOS helicopter gunships were observed overhead,” Kingibe said.

This “gives credence” to a claim by the Darfur rebels of collusion between government forces and the Janjaweed, he said, adding that the African Union would convene an emergency session to discuss how to deal with the spike in violence.

The attacks, which he said were confirmed by humanitarian aid agencies and other NGOs in the area, “took a heavy toll resulting in 32 people killed, four injured and seven missing and about 80 houses/shelters looted and set ablaze.”

Troops and police also launched a “well-rehearsed combined operation” last Friday on Tawila town and its neighbouring camp, “resulting in a number of deaths, massive displacement of civilians and the destruction of several houses in the surrounding areas as well as some tents,” Kingibe said.

He noted that Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) rebels had attacked and occupied the Sudanese government garrison town of Shearia on September 19, but later complied with an AU appeal “to vacate Shearia and refrain from acts capable of derailing the peace talks.”

As a result, “if the GOS forces claim that their latest acts of ceasefire violations are in retaliation for earlier acts of provocation by the SLA, this cannot be justified given the deliberately calculated and wanton destruction wreaked by the disproportionate use of force on innocent civilians and IDPs in their camps.”

The ambassador called the “collapse of the security situation in Darfur during this period even more ironic and regrettable given the high hopes for an early resolution of the Darfur crisis.”

Two million people are estimated to have been driven from their homes by fighting since rebels, who accuse Khartoum of discrimination and neglect, rose up in February 2003.

The conflict is believed to have killed 300,000 people.

The African Union is to hold an emergency meeting on October 3 to consider measures on how to avoid further deterioration of the security situation, Kingibe said.

Renewed fighting is undermining a ceasefire between government and rebel movements which was agreed in April 2004 and which had largely held despite sporadic attacks.

The conflict also spilled over into neighbouring Chad this week, when 55 villagers were killed along with 17 militiamen and three Chadian soldiers in an attack near the border.

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