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Darfur Women Tell UN Refugee Chief Of Terror

Darfur Women Tell UN Refugee Chief Of Their Terror Of Janjaweed Militia Attacks

New York, Apr 20 2005

Shouting “no” and gesturing dramatically with their hands, dozens of women in Sudan’s strife-riven western Darfur region have told the top United Nations refugee official that they were terrified to go home after being driven from their villages by Janjaweed militia and that they did not even feel safe inside the camps for displaced persons.

“This is why we’ve just opened an office here in Zalingi, to find a way to make it safe in the camp,” Acting UN High Commissioner for Refugees (<"http://www.unhcr.ch/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home">UNHCR) Wendy Chamberlin told 50 women during a visit yesterday to El Hamadya camp, one of four in Zalingi, in Sudan’s West Darfur state, that together house nearly 63,000 displaced people, totally swamping the town’s original population of about 16,000.

The women said that when they receive donations of plastic sheets and tents, armed men come into the camp in the middle of the night and steal the goods.

“Midnight – that’s when the AU is not there,” Ms. Chamberlin said, referring to the African Union troops who are spread throughout Darfur, a region the size of France, to provide a measure of safety for civilians traumatized by the two-year conflict that has uprooted more than 2 million people since a rebellion, partly in protest at the distribution of economic resources, has been compounded by the role played by armed militias.

“We in the UN refugee agency know protection means presence,” she said. “Unfortunately, the AU, we and the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are not in the camps all the time.”

When she asked the women if they felt safe to go home to their villages, they replied loudly and unanimously, “La,” – no in Arabic – with dramatic negative hand gestures.

Half of the women said they had lost a husband or male relative to Janjaweed attacks. “We will stay here in the camp for 20 years until they collect the guns from the Arab troops,” one woman vowed.

UNHCR has gotten the AU to send soldiers to protect women from rape when they leave the camp to collect firewood. But the women said security was their top concern along with food and education for their children.

The women ululated and broke into song and dance when Ms. Chamberlin, on a five-day visit to Sudan and Chad, where some 200,000 people from Darfur have fled, entered the makeshift thatched women’s centre. But the meeting quickly turned serious as they told of their concerns about what would happen if they go back home.

“There are people who are armed and they kill us, they rape us and they rob us. They are the Janjaweed,” one woman said.

On the one-hour helicopter flight to Zalingi, Ms. Chamberlin passed over numerous burnt-out villages in the barren desert which she said “graphically illustrate why these people left their villages and sought safety and security in the camps.” 2005-04-20 00:00:00.000

For more details go to UN News Centre at http://www.un.org/news

ENDS

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