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Armed gunmen raid camp for aid workers in North Darfur, says UN mission

Armed gunmen raid camp for aid workers in North Darfur, says UN mission

Four armed gunmen raided the compound of a non-governmental organization (NGO) at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the war-torn Darfur region, the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reported today.

The gunmen were also armed with grenades when they broke into the compound yesterday at the IDP camp in Zamzam, a town in North Darfur, commandeered a vehicle and then drove off.

No staff were injured during the raid, but four vehicle or hand-held radios inside the vehicle were also taken by the gunmen.

The wing of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) headed by Minni Minawi, which signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) with the Government in May last year, has informed the UN that NGOs should not return to the Zamzam camp for three days while it introduces new security measures.

On Monday, a drunken Sudanese Government soldier shot into the area at the marketplace in Tawila, also in North Darfur, causing shops to close and widespread panic in the area.

The latest incidents occurred as negotiations continue between the Minawi wing of the SLA and the aid community on improving access to the areas controlled by the former rebels in South Darfur.

UNMIS reported that humanitarian activities have not yet been able to resume in Gereida because of a lack of safety guarantees, but that operations have re-started in other areas, including in Khor Abeche in South Darfur and the eastern Jebel Marra in North Darfur.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur, an impoverished and arid region on Sudan’s western flank, and 2 million others displaced since 2003 because of fighting between Government forces, allied militias and rebel groups seeking greater autonomy.

Many rebel groups did not sign the DPA last year, and fighting has raged on since then, with almost 4 million people now dependent on aid, and growing fears that the conflict could spill into neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR).

Yesterday Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that his Special Envoy for Darfur Jan Eliasson, together with African Union (AU) counterpart Salim Ahmed Salim, would travel to Sudan next week to try to revive the stalled peace process.

Mr. Eliasson and Mr. Salim will travel on Monday to the capital, Khartoum, and to Darfur itself for talks with the Government and with representatives of those rebel groups that did not sign the DPA.

Mr. Ban is waiting for a response from the Sudanese Government to a letter he sent last month outlining the details of a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur, its command structure and funding. Khartoum has already agreed in principle to such a force replacing the current AU monitoring force known as AMIS.

Speaking to reporters today at UN Headquarters, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno said the uncertainty was delaying offers by countries to contribute to the hybrid force.

In a separate development, UNMIS noted that a meningitis epidemic has spread to eight states in southern Sudan since the end of last year, with 780 cases and 76 deaths reported as of 1 February. The UN World Health Organization (WHO) is working with Sudanese Health Ministry officials to respond to the outbreak, with mass vaccinations taking place in two states so far.