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Sudan: Armed groups targeting civilians & convoys

Sudan: Armed groups must stop targeting civilians and humanitarian convoys

Amnesty International called upon all armed groups to commit publicly to respect the fundamental principle of international humanitarian law which prohibits direct attacks on civilians and humanitarian convoys.

Eighteen passengers from nomad groups were taken off a bus between Niyertiti and Thur in South Darfur state by soldiers of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), one of the Darfur armed groups engaged in a 20 month-old conflict with the Sudan government forces. Amnesty International has grave concerns about their fate. Thirteen of them are said to have been killed.

"Reports from the World Food Program of government forces surrounding displaced persons' camps and barring humanitarian agencies in retaliation for these abductions show the dangerous fragility of the situation," said Erwin Van Der Borght, Deputy Program Director of Amnesty International's Africa program .

Amnesty International is also concerned at the increasing number of attacks and abductions by armed opposition groups on humanitarian workers and convoys.

"Attacks knowingly and intentionally directed against personnel involved in humanitarian assistance in armed conflict may constitute war crimes,"said Erwin van der Borght .

"Insecurity within Darfur hinders movement to whole districts, so that food, medicine and other non-food items can not be brought in. This increases enormously the sufferings of an already vulnerable population," he added.

After such attacks, the district or road is likely to be declared a no-go area for international humanitarian staff for several days. During that time, aid will no longer be transported to thousands of people displaced by attacks by government-backed militias and Sudanese security forces.

- After Sudan Liberation Army forces reportedly hijacked seven commercial trucks east of al-Fasher on 23 October, the road between al-Fasher and Um Kedada in North Darfur was closed and has only just been re-opened.

- Because of heavy fighting in the area, the road between al-Fasher and Kutum remains a no-go zone.

- On 10 October 2004 two Save The Children workers were killed in the Um Baro area in North Darfur by a landmine explosion. Since these deaths, the road has been closed, causing severe disruption to aid convoys.

- According to the UN the SLA hijacked two vehicles belonging to an international aid organization in South Darfur on 14 October and returned them 4 days later.

- Over the past two months, a number of World Food Program commercial trucks have been attacked in South Darfur. - Eight Sudanese, including four TV journalists working for a local station in Nyala, who were abducted in August by the SLA, were released only on 29 October.

Armed groups sometimes justify their attacks by saying that they suspect Sudanese workers accompanying humanitarian convoys to be spies for the government. Sudanese staff are said to be badly treated by armed groups, in comparison with international staff.

"The tragedy of Darfur has been caused by ignoring the clear rules of humanitarian law which say that civilians must never be targeted. Darfur remains an extremely unstable zone, where civilians and humanitarian workers live in great insecurity," concluded Erwin van der Borght.

Background

The minimum rules applicable to all parties in conflict, including "armed conflict not of an international character", are laid out in Article 3 common to all the four Geneva Conventions and in Article 13 of Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts. This codifies customary law in stating that: The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack.. Civilian status is lost only where the person takes an active part in hostilities, and not merely on the basis of a person’s support or affiliation.

Armed groups operating in Darfur and Kordofan have recently proliferated, with the formation of al-Shahama, an armed group said to be close to the Popular Congress - opposition party of former ideologist of the government Dr Hasan al-Turabi - and the National Reform and Development Movement (NRDM), based in Tine, along the Chad-Sudan border. According to the African Union (AU) monitoring mission Commander, General Festus Okwonkwo, the NRDM stated that it did not recognize the 8 April ceasefire agreement and would not guarantee the safety of AU military observers.

More information about the crisis in Sudan at http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maacPmLabbq2dbb0hPub/

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