Oct 2 2006 Guardian report by Jonathan Steele in Nyala, Sudan - Rebel groups kill 40 in Darfur - Foreign aid workers forced to abandon refugee camp
Fierce clashes between rival African groups in south Darfur have left up to 40 people dead and prompted most foreign aid workers to abandon Greida, one of the world's largest camps for displaced people.
Fighters loyal to the Justice and Equality Movement, one of two rebel groups which refused to sign an internationally-brokered peace deal in May, used mortars and heavy machines to attack men from a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army which did accept the deal.
"Exchanges of fire lasted for three to four hours. It was only a mile from the town. It happened on Friday", the Guardian was told by an official from one of several aid agencies which withdrew from Greida to Nyala, the regional capital, at the weekend. They include Oxfam, Save the Children, and Merlin. Only the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has its own helicopters, has stayed in Greida to care for an estimated 130,000 homeless people who live in a vast camp beside the town.
The fighting appears to be the worst incident in Darfur since the peace deal was signed in May. Clashes in April sent 90,000 people fleeing to the camp but did not cause so many casualties.
In the first two and half years of the conflict in Sudan's western region so-called janjaweed militia backed by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum caused most of the killing, with villages being burnt, women raped, and livestock stolen. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced.
But the last 12 months, and particularly the period since May, have seen a spate of inter-tribal clashes. Darfur used to have three rebel groups but splits have developed within each of them, creating a bewildering series of factions and a climate of chaos. Bandits are also exploiting the lawlessness.
In north Darfur 25 aid agency vehicles have been hijacked or stolen since May, in many cases along with satellite phones. The increase in ethnic tension has put staff at risk, if they come across roadblocks thrown up by people from a different tribe. Eleven Sudanese aid workers have been killed in the last three months
Medecins sans Frontières had two cars stolen from its compound at Saraf Omra. Oxfam lost a lorry in the same area, and its Sudanese driver has not been found, prompting both organisations to withdraw from the area.
The crisis means that most displaced people in the camps have better access to food and medicine thann those who stayed in their villages. MSF left Korma, a large district centre, in August because of security concerns.
"When we came here, we deliberately decided to work outside the camps", said Kristel Eerdekens, MSF Belgium's mission head in north Darfur. "Some 20,000 people live in Korma, but not even our local staff can work there now, which means there is no doctor at all."
In Saraf Omra, with a population of 55,000, the primary health clinic is left in the hands of medical assistants. "No caesarians can be done, and no referrals to hospitals," she added.
In Kebkebiya three out of nine patients with suspected cholera recently died, partly because MSF staff have had to stop driving out to village clinics. In Jebel Marra where many children have oedema MSF has had to abandon plans to open a therapeutic feeding centre.
The World Food programme curtailed food deliveries to large parts of north Darfur this summer because of the surge in insecurity. They were resumed to the town of Malha, north-east of El Fasher, last month after the government regained control of the main road, but German Agro Action, the non-governmental organisation which runs the local distribution of food aid, has to contact rebel commanders to get clearance.
Rebel attacks have made numerous areas inaccessible. "One WFP truck was taken north of Kutum a week ago by people with National Redemption Front written on their vehicles. We negotiated, and got it and the driver back, but the food was gone," said Chris Czerwinski, the WFP's regional mission head. "Two weeks earlier the same happened with two trucks. Again it was NRF. The drivers were held for 10 days." The National Redemption Front is one of the new splinter groups which reject the peace deal.
Janjaweed militia have also set up roadblocks, where WFP drivers have been beaten and had their possessions stolen, but the trucks and food were not taken, Mr Czerwinski said.
No aid official is willing to quantify how much of the crime is done by pro-government groups and how much by rebel groups or bandits, since the raiders rarely identify their loyalties. "It would be unfair to point the finger only at the government. All parties have done their share of creating insecurity," said Ms Eerdekens.
Alpha Konare, a former president of Mali who now chairs the African Union commission, last week blamed the rebels for most of the collapse in security.
Unfortunately, this report does not make clear whether the JEM faction is part of NRF or not. Whatever, they're not interested in peace. They've admitted their aim is to overthrow Khartoum regime and, I guess, replace it with themselves. No doubt they've staged this attack to get media attention in the run up to EU's Barroso trip to Darfur with peace agenda
and the historic EU-AU meeting taking place today at AU HQ in Ethiopia.