18 April 2005 Clashes between the Government and rebels in Sudan's western Darfur region, attacks against international aid workers, rape and the persecution of its victims, abuse of children, and torture by security forces, underscored a continuing dire situation, according to the latest United Nations report on the region, which was released today.
"The killing of civilians and combatants alike must stop and a genuine ceasefire must be observed," Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in the report for March, the latest in a monthly series mandated by the Security Council. He calls on all parties to abide by several agreements they have already signed.
And he urges the international community to "take urgent action" to assist and strengthen the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), at present numbering some 2,260 staff out a mandated total of about 3,160, in monitoring the situation in an area the size of France.
"A stronger and more capable AMIS presence in Darfur will greatly enhance the overall security environment," he writes. "Better security, in turn, will greatly facilitate the search for a political solution"
While attacks on the civilian population decreased marginally and the Government redeployed some troops in South Darfur, these positive steps were overshadowed by the increased military activity and attacks against international personnel, and the security situation saw no improvement in relation to February.
"Reports of Janjaweed attacks against villages were received throughout the month," Mr. Annan says of the militia accused of committing atrocities in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and uprooted more than 2 million more since rebels took about arms two years ago, partly in protest at the distribution of economic resources.
"Reports continue to be received that Government forces operate jointly with armed tribal militias or, at the least, that both operate in the same area at the same time and towards the same general goals," he adds of attacks against local farmers. He also reports that the rebel Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) has been implicated in such attacks.
Saying he is troubled by the rash of attacks against international personnel, he highlights three incidents, one of them by suspected Janjaweed, "because of the apparent intent to do harm to, or kill, those who have come to help the people of the Sudan."
He notes that high-ranking Government officials have spoken of "the risks to international personnel" should the International Criminal Court (ICC) act on a list of 51 suspected war criminals Mr. Annan presented to it, thus linking the prospect of action to "an increasing threat to the safety of international staff."
He also reports that a sizeable number of attacks on commercial trucks used by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to bring crucial aid have been carried out by rebels. Meanwhile Government authorities have increasingly harassed humanitarian organizations with delays in providing visas and arrests as well as false and hostile accusations in national media outlets.
On the protection of civilians, which "continues to be a major concern," Mr. Annan cites a report by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Médecins sans Frontières that 500 rape victims were treated between last October and February.
"This figure is all the more shocking when set against the reality that many survivors of sexual and gender-based violence do not seek treatment, owing both to social stigma attached to rape and fear of negative repercussions," he says, referring to a widespread practice of counter-prosecution of victims.
In one case several pregnant rape victims were detained on adultery charges and, although eventually released, were beaten and sexually assaulted while in detention, thus discouraging others from registering complaints.
He also notes that human rights observers are documenting a number of cases of torture and ill-treatment of civilians arbitrarily arrested by security forces.
Overall the number of conflict-affected people increased slightly to 2.45 million from 2.4 million in March, due mostly to new registrations and assessments, while the population of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) remained steady at 1.86 million. Food aid reached a record 1.7 million people in February.
Funding requirements for the Darfur humanitarian operation outlined by the UN 2005 work plan are 42 per cent covered. Of the total required amount of $675 million, an estimated $516 million was needed by the end of March, but as of the middle of the month only $291 million had been provided.