Crisis in Darfur Escalates With Death Toll at 10,000 Monthly

Anarchy and Warlords Threaten Remnants of Stability

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ROME, NOV. 5, 2004 ( The U.N. and Caritas Italy appealed to the international community to take notice of western Sudanese region of Darfur where the world’s worst current humanitarian crisis is taking place.

The World Health Organization reported the average number of deaths per month since last March per at 10,000.

An additional two million displaced people continue to suffer «without concrete prospects of being able to return to their villages,» stressed the Catholic charity in a statement to the Vatican news service Fides.

It is estimated that 70,000 have died so far, in addition to all those displaced, as a result of the fighting since February, 2003 between popular self-defense rebel groups — the Movement for Justice and Equality (JEM) and the Sudanese Liberation Army-Movement (SLA-M) — and the Khartoum government.

The government is accused of abandoning the Darfur region, because its population is primarily black, and of financing the «Janjaweed» militias — active Arab assailants in western Sudan –, who for years have spread death and destruction among the non-Arab populations.

The situation has forced some 200,000 refugees to flee to eastern Chad, which borders on Darfur. Of these 170,000 of them are sheltered in refugee camps.

Caritas emergency intervention, in cooperation with Action by Churches Together, a network of Orthodox and Protestant Churches and organizations, amounts to 14 million Euros for the benefit of 500,000 people. The funds are being allocated to health, hygiene, food, and shelter — tents, blankets, coverlets, etc.

A report of the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP), published on Oct. 26, stated that 22% of the children of Darfur are suffering from acute malnutrition, and that about one half of the families lack sufficient provisions.

The WFP study, carried out last August and September and reported by the semi-official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, also pointed out the difficult situation of more than 6.5 million inhabitants of Darfur, especially the refugees. At present, this Sudanese region has the highest rate of mortality in the world.

WFP expert Rita Bhatia, who presented the report, explained that in September the program distributed provisions to 1.3 million people. However, half the harvests have been lost, she explained, so that by the end of the year it will be necessary to feed at least 1.7 million people.

UNICEF—the United Nations Children’s Fund—reported from Khartoum on the high mortality rate of the displaced. Thousands of children die from illnesses that can be prevented or treated, and from the violence directed against the peoples and refugee camps in Darfur. It is estimated that two-thirds of the population affected by the conflict are women and children.

Life in the refugee camps is extraordinarily difficult. Nighttime temperatures drop below zero. There is little access to potable water, food and essential items. Hygiene and sanitation is poor, which, along with malnutrition, multiplies the risk of illnesses and epidemics, all of which is reflected in a tragic increase in infant mortality, UNICEF explained.

Danger for Displaced Peoples Due to Increase of Violence in Darfur

The increase of violence in Darfur has led U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to appeal to the U.N. Security Council to intervene. Although there is progress on the political front, regression is manifest in other areas.

Annan believes that the council’s meeting in Nairobi on Nov. 18-19 will be an opportunity to speak-out on the situation. He has reminded the world community that 2 million people in the region are in need of humanitarian aid, the U.N. news center reported on Thursday.

For his part, Jan Pronk, the U.N. special representative for Sudan, warned the Security Council on Tuesday, of the danger that Darfur will plunge into anarchy.

«Darfur can easily fall into a state of anarchy»; «the conflict is changing in character and the government does not control its own forces completely. It enrolled paramilitary forces and now cannot count on their obedience,» said Pronk, adding that the region might soon «be ruled by war lords.»

In his report to the Council, Pronk explained that the lines have disappeared which separated the military, paramilitary and police forces. In addition, there is a leadership crisis in the rebel forces, which are splitting, with the danger that this implies.

Over the last days, confrontations between rebels, government forces, and «Janjaweed» have multiplied. The tension became all the more acute after last week’s kidnapping — precisely at the moment that the government and rebels resumed negotiations in Abuja (with the mediation of the African Union) –, of 18 Arab students, allegedly by the SLA-M, and the mobilization of thousands of Arab militias in the western and southern areas of Darfur.

U.N. sources and humanitarian agencies reported on Tuesday the progressive deterioration of security on the outskirts of some refugee camps, both in Darfur and Chad, a tension that increased on Monday when some groups of the Sudanese army and local police surrounded camps of the Nyala area, in response to the kidnapping of the 18 Sudanese of Arab origin, Misna agency explained.

The measure obliged U.N. agencies and humanitarian organizations working in the camps to halt their activity and remove their personnel. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckard said that, after surrounding the Al Geer camp, near Nyala, the army and police ordered people into 15 trucks.

The movement of armed men and the arrival of the trucks spread fear among the other refugees, many of whom fled from the camp.
On Wednesday, Kofi Annan lamented the violation of international humanitarian law in the forced transport of refugees, undertaken the previous day by the Sudanese army in the Nyala camp.

Annan energetically urged the Sudanese government to halt the relocation of displaced people, taken to «inadequate sites,» and to return them to the camp. For its part, Khartoum replied that the relocation was for security reasons and to avoid the spread of infectious diseases.

On Saturday, a U.N. investigation mission will begin its work in Darfur, to asses the extent of violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law, to determine the possibility of genocide, and to identify those responsible for the violations.

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