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W. Darfur: UN Voices Concern For Civilians' Safety

Western Darfur: following attacks, UN officials voice concern for civilians' safety

24 February 2008 - The head of the United Nations-African Union (AU) hybrid peacekeeping force, known as UNAMID, and the world body's Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan today said that they are "gravely concerned" for the safety of thousands of civilians in the Jebel Muun area of Western Darfur, which was reportedly the scene of aerial bombings.

"It is imperative that civilians are kept out of harms' way, and for this to happen, any fighting must stop immediately. The risks at this stage to civilians are unacceptably high," according to a statement issued by UN/AU Joint Special Representative Rodolphe Adada and UN Humanitarian Coordinator Ameerah Haq.

The Government has assured them that civilians will be able to move out of the area and to safety, and they are seeking similar assurances from the area's rebel movements.

"The solution to Darfur's problems can never be a military one," Mr. Adada and Ms. Haq said, adding that they hope to have humanitarian access to Jebel Muun and nearby areas.

"The eyes of the world are now on Darfur and the concerns of all of us have to be with the innocent children, women and men who are caught-up in the fighting."

On 22 February, Ms. Haq expressed alarm at the level of destruction she witnessed while participating in a joint assessment of the West Darfur town of Sirba, which came under air and ground attack from the Sudanese Government and allied militia groups earlier this month.

For now, the UN can provide humanitarian assistance, "but the clear message obviously is that what the people really want is protection. They are looking for security," Ms. Haq said. "The ability to provide that - whether from the government or the international community - is still a long way away."

Women and girls face being raped when gathering firewood in the Wadi, and the Humanitarian Coordinator appealed to both the international community and Khartoum to recognize the need for UNAMID's speedy deployment.

ENDS

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