SUDAN WATCH: Muhajaria, S. Darfur: JEM have deliberately placed themselves in areas of heavily populated by civilians (Update 1)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Muhajaria, S. Darfur: JEM have deliberately placed themselves in areas of heavily populated by civilians (Update 1)

UN rights chief alarmed by Darfur fighting
February 3, 2009 AFP report (Geneva):
The UN's top human rights official Navi Pillay said she was "alarmed" Tuesday by reports of deteriorating conditions faced by civilians amid an upsurge in violence in south Darfur.

Fighting between the Sudanese army and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels is jeopardizing the safety of civilians, she said, calling for all sides to respect the obligation of protecting civilians.

At least 30 people, including women and children, have been reportedly killed and 30,000 people displaced in violence which broke out in the Muhajaria area of south Darfur on January 15, she said.

"I'm extremely concerned at the impact the fighting is having on the already dire humanitarian situation in Muhajaria," Pillay said, adding that aid agencies have had to evacuate their staff over safety fears.

"The fighting is reported to have involved ground offensives and indiscriminate aerial bombardment by government forces that failed to distinguish between civilian communities and military targets," she said.

"JEM forces are also reported to have deliberately placed themselves in areas heavily populated by civilians, thereby jeopardizing their safety," she added.

Air raids also struck near Muhajaria Monday, following a warning to UNAMID from the Sudanese government on Sunday to withdraw its 190 peacekeepers from the area ahead of an offensive to recapture it from JEM rebels.
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Sudan rejects Darfur rebel offer
February 3, 2009 Reuters report by Andrew Heavens in Khartoum:
Sudan's government said on Tuesday the army would take a battle-scarred Darfur town by force, rejecting a rebel offer to withdraw if peacekeepers assumed control there.

JEM rebels offered to pull out of Muhajiriya as long as peacekeepers ran it as a military-free zone, but the Sudanese government rejected this.

JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim told Reuters Tuesday he was prepared to pull his forces out of Muhajiriya following an appeal for a JEM withdrawal by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"That is with one condition: that the army and the government and Minni Minnawi should not come there ... It should be a non-military zone for civilians and IDPs (internally displaced people) and UNAMID," he said.

"If they come back, we will come back."

ASSAULT PLANNED

Sudan foreign ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig rejected JEM's proposal.

"This will not be acceptable to the government. There is no room for conditions from JEM. The army is determined to re-take it (Muhajiriya) by force," he told Reuters.

UNAMID spokesman Noureddine Mezni said the UN/AU representative in Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, was planning to fly to neighbouring Chad Wednesday to meet JEM commanders.

UNAMID has promised to stay in the settlement to protect 30,000 civilians, half of whom are residents, half Darfuris displaced from earlier clashes in the near six-year conflict.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Tuesday she was worried about the fate of civilians, adding that at least 30 people had died since January 15.

"The fighting is reported to have involved ground offensives and indiscriminate aerial bombardment by government forces that failed to distinguish between civilian communities and military targets," Pillay said.

"JEM forces are also reported to have deliberately placed themselves in areas heavily populated by civilians, therefore jeopardising their safety." (Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis in Addis Ababa and Laura MacInnis in Geneva; Editing by Charles Dick)
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Darfur rebels offer to leave battle-scarred town
February 3, 2009 Reuters report by Andrew Heavens in Khartoum:
Darfur rebels said on Tuesday they were ready to withdraw from a battle-scarred town as long as peacekeepers took control and ran it as a military-free zone.

JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim on Tuesday told Reuters he was prepared to pull his forces out of the area following an appeal for a JEM withdrawal by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"That is with one condition: that the army and the government and Minni Minnawi should not come there ... It should be a non-military zone for civilians and IDPs (internally displaced people) and UNAMID," he said.

"If they come back, we will come back."
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UNAMID statement on the situation in Muhajeriya
February 2, 2009 UNAMID El Fasher:
The African Union – United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) received yesterday a request from the Government of Sudan to withdraw its forces from Muhajeriya, approximately 80 kilometers east of Nyala, South Darfur, due to the recent deterioration of the security situation in the area.

Highly conscious of its responsibilities in Darfur, UNAMID has initiated diplomatic and political consultations, at the highest levels, with the Government of Sudan. These discussions, which are still ongoing, aim at ensuring that the Mission’s presence in Muhajeriya is maintained, so that it can continue to carry out its mandated tasks of providing protection to the civilian population and secure the provision of humanitarian assistance to those who need it.

This is particularly crucial in view of the 30,000 civilians living in the area, including more than 1,500 persons displaced by the latest fighting and who have recently clustered around Muhajeriya UNAMID base.

UNAMID diplomatic efforts and consultations also include engaging non-governmental belligerent parties. To this effect, Mr. Rodolphe Adada, UNAMID Joint Special Representative, will travel to neighboring Chad to meet and discuss with representatives of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which was involved in the recent fighting in the Muhajeriya area.

While UNAMID expects the Government of Sudan to fulfill its obligations to provide security for all of its citizens, it urges all parties to refrain from further fighting and acts of violence that could only jeopardize the safety and welfare of the people of Darfur and the ongoing peace efforts.
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UN Secretary-General gravely concerned by situation around Muhajeria
February 1, 2009 (UNAMID) Statement from Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Darfur:
The Secretary-General is gravely concerned by reports of a build-up of Government and rebel forces in the area around Muhajeria in South Darfur, and by the possibility of renewed fighting between the Government and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

The Secretary-General calls on the Government of Sudan and the JEM to cease all military activities in South Darfur. The Secretary-General reminds all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law and expresses his deep concern over the suffering which these military confrontations would bring to the civilian population, including the thousands of internally displaced persons who have sought refuge in camps and villages surrounding Muhajeria.

The Secretary-General reiterates that the African Union/United Nations Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) will continue to do its utmost to protect civilians in these difficult circumstances and reminds the parties of their fundamental responsibility to work with UNAMID to ensure that civilians are protected from harm.
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Security zone in Darfur town seized by Sudanese rebels
February 4, 2009 report from Xinhua (Khartoum) dated Feb. 3 (Editor: Mu Xuequan):
A security zone that was established in a town in the war-torn western Sudanese region of Darfur in order to protect UN and African Union peacekeepers as well as civilians, has fallen into the hands of rebels, a Sudanese army spokesman announced on Tuesday.

The one-square-km security zone was established around a camp of the UN-AU hybrid peacekeeping force (UNAMID) in the town of Muhajiriya, 80 km east of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur State.

Muhajiriya, which had been controlled by the Sudan Liberation Movement-Miniwi faction led by Mini Arkou Miniwi who signed a peace agreement with the Sudanese government in May, 2006, was seized by militants of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in mid-January.

The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) of the government asked the UNAMID to evacuate its staff from the town on Monday because the SAF was planning to launch an attack to re-take the disputed town, the SAF spokesman said in a statement.

However, the UNAMID turned down the demand, noting that a large number of civilians were taking shelter in the UNAMID camp since the rebel militants occupied the town and the evacuation of the UNAMID staff would leave these civilians in danger.

The UNAMID proposed the security zone which the peacekeeping force promised to prevent the JEM militants from approaching, the spokesman said, noting that the SAF agreed to the proposal.

He reiterated that the SAF would do its best to help the UNAMID to perform its tasks in Darfur.

Meanwhile, the JEM has offered to pull out its troops from Muhajiriya "taking in consideration the safety of the civilians in the town", the Paris-based Sudan Tribune reported in its website on Tuesday.

Ahmed Hussein Adam, the official spokesperson of the rebel movement said they were ready to withdraw their troops from Muhajiriya provided the town was declared a demilitarized zone under the control of the hybrid peacekeeping force.

He added that Sudanese army or former rebels led by Mini Miniwi should remain away from the town.

But the Sudanese government has immediately rejected the offer saying there is "no room for conditions from the JEM", according to the report.

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the U.S. administration urged the JEM rebels to give up Muhajiriya.

"I have urged the JEM to withdraw from Muhajiriya in order to avoid an escalation of violence, and the Sudanese authorities to use maximum restraint," said the UN secretary-general in an address to an AU summit meeting in Addis Ababa.

The U.S. State Department joined in condemning the rebel capture of Muhajiriya and demanded the JEM withdraw from the town.
See Sudan Watch 1 Feb 09 for compilation of previous news reports on Muhajaria, South Darfur: Sudan asks UNAMID to leave Muhajeria, South Darfur - Sudan preparing counter-attack on Muhajiriya, after losing it to rival JEM (Update 10)

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