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Last month Darfur's worst-ever for violence

August 09 2006

Last month Darfur's worst-ever for violence towards aid workers

Aid agencies say insecurity is preventing vital assistance reaching those who need it, demand end to rising violence

Four major international aid agencies working in Darfur today said that July was the worst month of the three-year old conflict in terms of attacks on aid workers and operations. Eight humanitarian workers were violently killed in Darfur during July. The agencies – CARE, International Rescue Committee, Oxfam International and World Vision – joined forces to express alarm at rising violence and deteriorating humanitarian access since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement on May 5. They warned the increasing insecurity is crippling their ability to reach people in need, with potentially disastrous consequences.

As well as the eight deaths, July saw many other aid workers attacked and intimidated, and there were more than twenty incidents of humanitarian vehicles being hijacked or stolen.

"The targeting of humanitarian workers is completely unacceptable. Since the signing of the Agreement, Darfur has become increasingly tense and violent, which has led to the tragic deaths of far too many civilians and aid workers. A full and comprehensive ceasefire must be implemented immediately," said Paul Smith-Lomas, Regional Director of Oxfam, one of several organisations to have a member of staff killed in recent weeks.

Tensions within many of the camps for the region's two million displaced people have steadily risen due to opposition to the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). Violence is increasingly quick to break out, putting at risk aid workers who are delivering vital services. Meanwhile, the under-resourced and poorly supported African Union police and troops who are supposed to be providing security appear to have reduced the scope of their efforts to protect civilians since the DPA's signing.

The agencies called upon those responsible for protecting civilians and creating a secure environment for aid operations, particularly the African Union, to prioritise having a 24/7 presence and regular patrols in areas around the camps.

The humanitarian response in Darfur is the largest in the world and has managed to stabilise the horrific health and nutritional conditions that were seen in the early stages of the conflict. However, the agencies warned this response is now under threat. Some areas of Darfur are seeing levels of malnutrition once again on the rise, and outbreaks of acute diarrhoea in the vast camps.

"The danger is clear. If we cannot access the people who need assistance then the humanitarian situation is going to rapidly deteriorate. As usual in Darfur, civilians are the ones to suffer – from being attacked, displaced, and also from being denied access to the assistance that they urgently need," said Kurt Tjossen, a spokesperson for the IRC.

In the last month, more than 25,000 people have fled their homes in North Darfur in the face of fighting and attacks on their villages. Three and a half million people throughout Darfur are dependent on humanitarian aid, yet vast areas such as the Jebel Marra mountains and large chunks of the northwestern region, are almost completely inaccessible to aid agencies due to the violence and insecurity.

The agencies called on all parties engaged in the conflict – those who have signed the DPA and those who have not – to immediately adhere to the ceasefire and allow humanitarian operations unhindered access to the people in need. They urged the international community to do more to pressure all sides to end the ongoing violence.

Signed: CARE, Oxfam International, International Rescue Committee (IRC), World Vision Additional Notes:

• Deaths of humanitarian workers in Darfur during July 2006 July 6 – A Care staff member was shot dead at a water point in Kalma, South Darfur July 12 – A Relief International driver was shot dead during a hijacking near Saraf Omra, North Darfur July 19 – A SUDO driver was shot dead during a hijacking near Mershing, South Darfur July 20 – Three workers from the state water corporation (WES) were beaten to death in Hassahissa IDP camp, West Darfur July 27 – A Tearfund staff member was beaten to death in Dereig IDP camp, West Darfur July 28 – An Oxfam staff member was killed during an attack on a village in West Darfur. He had previously been abducted during a hijacking in May.

Half of these incidents have taken place in camps for displaced people – due to the increasingly volatile atmosphere within the camps since the signing of the DPA. Many of the displaced oppose the agreement.

• The UN recently announced that humanitarian access levels in Darfur are now worse than in 2004 – it is thought that they are as low as 60%, with most access being via air. Four in ten people in Darfur are therefore thought to be not receiving the assistance that they need.

• Since the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed on May 5, the situation in Darfur has become increasingly complex. Rebel movements have split into numerous factions and there have been widespread popular demonstrations against the agreement within the IDP camps. Banditry and general lawlessness is now rife. Militias, rebel groups and government forces have all clashed on a regular basis.

ENDS

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