A sense of fear pervades the many camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sudan's Darfur region, and most residents remain sceptical that local authorities can guarantee their security, two senior United Nations human rights officials said today while touring the strife-torn region.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Juan Méndez, spent their second day in North Darfur inspecting camps and talking to Sudanese officials and staff from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
A spokesman travelling with the mission said the two officials were struck by the uncertain condition of the IDPs, their "general sense of fear," and the prevailing lack of confidence that Sudanese authorities can protect them.
At least 1.2 million people are estimated to be IDPs within Darfur, and another 200,000 live as refugees in Chad, because of repeated and often deadly attacks by Janjaweed militias against villagers and their homes and cropland. Sudanese Government forces have also been fighting two rebel groups.
Spokesman José Luis Díaz said humanitarian conditions in the IDP camps have improved. He also said the nature of the violence in Darfur seems to have shifted, with fewer major attacks on villages but more reports of violence against individuals - a more difficult trend to document.
Mrs. Arbour and Mr. Méndez are expected to travel next to Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state.
Last week, Secretary-General Kofi Annan dispatched Mrs. Arbour and Mr. Mendez to Darfur to assess how the vast region's beleaguered inhabitants can be better protected from Janjaweed attacks.
On Saturday the Security Council adopted a resolution stating it would consider sanctions against Khartoum unless the Sudanese Government cooperates more with earlier resolutions to disarm the Janjaweed and protect civilians, and agrees to an expanded force of monitors from the African Union (AU).
The Council has also asked Mr. Annan to set up a commission of inquiry to determine whether genocide has taken place in Darfur over the past year.
Meanwhile, the High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers will begin a five-day inspection visit to Darfur and neighbouring Chad on Thursday. He is scheduled to tour camps for IDPs and refugees and hold talks with UN and local officials.