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September 12, 2008

More attacks across Darfur. Disaster for civilians

UNITED NATIONS - / MaximsNews Network / 11 September 2008 -- With fighting once again spreading across Darfur, UN officials are worried about not only the fate of the millions of people in the area, including hundreds of thousands who had to flee their homes, but also about the future of humanitarian operations given the recent spate of violence against aid vehicles.
John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, yesterday discussed the renewed conflict in northern part of western Sudan and attacks by Sudanese government troops.

There have also been accounts of bombing of villages in North Darfur by government planes. This is especially disquieting because the two villages reported to have been targets, Birmaza and Disa are centers for the access to medical supplies and treatment, water, and many other necessities and are a crossroads for trade.

However, Sudan's government has told UN-African Union peacekeepers from UNAMID that it is not conducting operations in the area but this has been belied by sightings of troops with extensive weaponry, army vehicles, and other military provisions. UNAMID says there have also been more helicopters and planes belonging to the Sudanese armed forces seen in the region than usual.

Already unrest has spread through not only North Darfur but also the Jebel Marra area, which is part of several different states in Darfur , and has impeded, and forced the suspension of, the delivery of international assistances in some cases. As a result, some 450,000 people are negatively impacted.

Operations in Western Sudan may meet the same fate if attacks on UN vehicles transporting vital food and other supplies continue. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and other UN agencies have had more than 100 trucks seized so far in 2008 and an even larger number have been attacked and had the provisions they were carrying stolen. Around 70 of the vehicles have not yet been found and 43 of the drivers.

Currently, more than three million people receive food through these initiatives each month. But with few drivers willing to take the risk, it has become difficult for the WFP to get food and provisions to those who need them and rations have been reduced since May because of shortages in available food. The reduction in aid will become a total cessation if the violence is not curbed and some security reestablished.

Monika Midel, WFP Deputy Representative in Sudan, told the international community yesterday, "Repeated and targeted attacks on food convoys are making it extraordinarily difficult and dangerous for us to feed hungry people" and "Should these attacks continue, the situation will become intolerable- to the point that we will have to suspend operations in some areas of Darfur ."

The severity of the situation is shown by the fact that just last week the NGO German Agro Action (GAA) stopped giving out food to 450,000 people in North Darfur due to the unstable and dangerous environment. September is already a time in which humanitarian food assistance is critical because the supplies from the previous year's harvest have been exhausted.

Another consequence was shown by the outbreak of a food riot near an internally displaced persons camp last week that left one person dead and six hurt. It was precipitated by a shortage of sorghum due to problems and risk in bringing in supplies.

The WFP has also said that it "urges groups who have seized trucks and drivers to release them, unharmed. At stake are thousands of people in Darfur , who are reliant on the food lifeline."
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