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UN-African Union assessment team arrives in Darfur

UN-African Union team arrives in Darfur to assess strengthening international force

A joint United Nations-African Union (AU) team arrived in Darfur today on a mission to strengthen an AU monitoring force already there and prepare for its possible transition to a full-fledged UN peacekeeping operation even as a new attack was reported against humanitarian workers trying to ease the suffering in the strife-torn Sudanese region.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed concern over security in the Habila area after unidentified gunmen in military uniform attacked an Agency field office and shot a guard in the leg. The guard was discharged after being treated at the clinic of a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Habila.

It was the latest attack on UN and NGO humanitarian workers in Darfur, where three years of fighting between the Government, pro-Government militias and rebels have killed scores of thousands of people and displaced some 2 million others amid charges of the massacre of civilians, rape and other atrocities.

The joint UN-AU mission, led by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno, will meet with local regional leaders, representatives of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS), after holding wide-ranging consultations in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, with Government officials.

The decision to send the mission follows the signing a month ago of a peace agreement between the Government and the largest rebel faction. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland has warned that it is vital that AMIS receive a more robust mandate to protect the civilian population and humanitarian workers, and that its force be at least double its current strength of 7,000.

While the Government has agreed to the deployment of the assessment team, it has not yet agreed to a transition to a UN operation.

The attack on the UNHCR post came in an area about 95 kilometres south of the West Darfur capital of El Geneina, which had previously been calm. In mid-May, UNHCR started moving some 5,000C Chadian refugees, who had taken refuge there after fleeing military and bandit activity along the border between Chad and Sudan.

UNHCR has seven staff in Habila and some 75 in West Darfur.

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