The top United Nations relief official today voiced deep concern about reports of fresh violence in the north of the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan, especially a recent Government military offensive and attacks on aid workers by armed groups.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes called for all sides in the Darfur conflict, which has pitted rebels against Government forces and allied Janjaweed militiamen since 2003, to cease hostilities immediately and engage in meaningful talks towards a lasting settlement.
His comments follows reports from rebels and internally displaced persons (IDPs) that Sudanese Government forces launched sustained aerial bombardments over the past week near the villages of Birmaza and Disa in North Darfur state.
Sudanese military sources informed the hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping mission to Darfur (UNAMID) that no offensive against rebel positions was taking place, but the mission has observed movements of heavily armed men, vehicles and materiel, and an increase in aircraft traffic, particularly attack helicopters.
UNAMID – which has not yet established a presence in the area because of security reasons – said that while it could not confirm that fighting was occurring between the Government and rebels, its observations indicated that intense military activity was taking place.
Mr. Holmes, who is also Emergency Relief Coordinator for the UN, reminded the parties to the conflict of their responsibilities under international humanitarian law to protect civilians, differentiate between civilian and military targets and ensure unimpeded access for aid workers to the millions of civilians in need across the region.
Birmaza and Disa serve as important medical, water and commercial hubs for tens of thousands of people, and the reported military bombardments and the attacks on aid workers by armed groups have relief officials worried.
Insecurity across North Darfur and the Jebel Marra region, which straddles the three states of Darfur, has led to the suspension of vital humanitarian aid to some areas.
UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters that the cut in aid compromises the health and well-being of numerous towns and villages and affects up to 450,000 people.
About 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed, either through direct combat or as a result of disease, malnutrition or reduced life expectancy, since the Darfur conflict began five years ago, and more than 2.7 million others have been displaced from their homes.
Djibril Bassolé, the Joint African Union-UN Chief Mediator, is spearheading efforts to broker a solution from the warring parties, who have multiplied in number over the past year as the rebels have splintered from a handful of groups to as many as 30.