17 February 2009 A United Nations team has visited the scene of recent clashes between Government forces and armed groups in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, where they were able to see first-hand the suffering and damage inflicted by the fighting.
The assessment team sent by the UN-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) to Wada’ah, 90 kilometres south of El-Fasher in North Darfur, which has been under the control of the Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi faction (SLA/MM) for the past few years, said the damage did not seem to have been caused by combat but rather deliberately inflicted.
“Numerous buildings and equipment – houses, shops, huts, generators – were burnt to the ground as well as the market place, which was allegedly looted and where granaries set on fire were still smouldering when the UNAMID team visited the place,” the mission said in a news release, adding that residents indicated that a large number of people, many reported as having fled the fighting, were still unaccounted for.
“According to the local population, medical supplies at a local dispensary, water pump equipment, goods and food, were allegedly stolen, as well as more than 2,000 cattle herded out of the area.
“The team was taken to a site on the outskirts of Wada’ah, where a dozen carcasses of livestock – camels and donkeys – with visible marks of gunshots, were strewn around. On two different locations nearby, the UNAMID team was shown fresh mounds of earth which, according to the locals, were the recently-dug mass graves where they buried 45 of their own people,” the mission added.
At the same time, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed an agreement of “goodwill and confidence-building” signed in Doha, Qatar, today by the Sudanese Government and one of the rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), for the settlement of the conflict in Darfur, where more than six years of fighting between the Government, allied militia and rebel groups have led to over 300,000 deaths and uprooted over 2.7 million people.
“The Agreement represents a constructive step in the ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful conclusion to this long-running conflict,” a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said. “The Secretary-General underscores that until the parties renounce hostilities, the situation in Darfur cannot improve.”
Neither a precise casualty toll nor the number of possible wounded at Wada’ah could be obtained. Teams of UNAMID humanitarian, civil affairs and human rights experts have been sent to provide emergency aid, determine the exact circumstances surrounding the incidents, and stabilize the situation by engaging local leaders from all groups to resolve conflicts.
UNAMID Force Commander General Martin Luther Agwai expressed grave concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation and for the lives and welfare of civilians there. He also strongly condemned the fighting and called on all parties to refrain from further violence and destruction, urging them to resolve their conflicts peacefully and protecting civilians.
Meanwhile Mr. Ban has reported that grave violations continue to be perpetrated against children throughout Sudan by State and non-State parties, including child recruitment and systematic and widespread rape and sexual violence, with children and women in and around refugee and internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps especially vulnerable.
In a report to the Security Council on children and armed conflict in Sudan, he calls on the Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan, where a peace accord four years ago ended 20 years of civil war, as well as all armed groups in the country to end the recruitment and use of children in their forces and release to the UN those children already in their ranks.
He voices deep concern at the killing and maiming of children and other civilians in the course of military operations, including aerial bombardments, as well at the systematic sexual violence against girls and women that continues with impunity, especially in Darfur.
He also condemns the widespread targeting of humanitarian workers and facilities, which has resulted in the killing of humanitarian workers in Darfur and calls upon the Government to facilitate unhindered and safe access by humanitarian organizations working on child protection issues to affected populations in Darfur.
The Secretary-General notes some limited progress in establishing child protection dialogue with parties and highlights important ongoing initiatives by the Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan in areas such as adoption of national legislation for the protection of children, establishment of child protection modalities in the national police and a focus on children in the national disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process.
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