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Ambush and shooting of Darfur aid workers sparks outrage from UN relief chief

Ambush and shooting of Darfur aid workers sparks outrage from UN relief chief

John Holmes
United Nations humanitarian officials have deplored yesterday’s savage attack in the south of the war-wracked Darfur region in which a convoy of aid workers was ambushed and shot at by unknown gunmen.

Two of eight staff members of the non-governmental organization (NGO) World Vision International travelling in the convoy were shot in the head, while a third staff member was struck in the arm. The other five were hit by glass fragments and shrapnel.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the UN arranged for medical evacuation for some of the staff following the attack near the village of Bulbul Timisgo in South Darfur state. Two people had to be flown to the capital Khartoum for medical attention, while one was treated in the provincial capital Nyala. All eight staff have survived the shooting.

“This is a horrifying and brutal attack on aid staff who are working to save the lives of Sudanese people,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who is also the Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a statement released today in New York.

“We call on the Government of Sudan to act with all speed to identify those responsible and ensure that they are held accountable for their crime.”

Yesterday’s attack took place even though the convoy of two vehicles was clearly marked as humanitarian transport.

OCHA said the area in South Darfur where the attack occurred has been beset by banditry and violence this year, caused in part by clashes among rival Arab tribes.

Attacks against aid workers across all of Darfur are also on the rise, with the number of such incidents soaring by 150 per cent in the year to June. So far this year 98 vehicles have been hijacked, 105 staff temporarily taken hostage, 66 aid personnel physically or sexually assaulted and 61 aid convoys ambushed and looted.

OCHA said the attackers are invariably groups of armed men whose origin is difficult to determine with certainty.

NGOs, UN agencies and other groups have been providing relief to an estimated 4 million people affected by the conflict that has wracked Darfur since 2003, when rebels began fighting Government forces and allied Janjaweed militia. More than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2.2 million others displaced.

This year the aid community is seeking $1.25 billion to fund its humanitarian operations across all of Sudan, including $652 million for Darfur, an arid and impoverished region on the country’s western flank.

Earlier this year the UN and the African Union authorized the establishment of a hybrid peacekeeping force (UNAMID) of some 26,000 troops and police officers to try to quell the violence in Darfur and to protect humanitarian operations.