UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
SUDAN: Group reviews government's promise to disarm militias
NAIROBI, 27 Jul 2004 (IRIN) - An observer group comprising UN staff, Sudanese officials and representatives of other countries is visiting western Sudan's troubled Darfur region to see whether Khartoum is keeping a promise to disarm militias accused of committing atrocities against civilians.
The three-day joint mission to Darfur that began on Monday would also review the overall security situation to determine if it is safe for some 1.2 million displaced persons (IDPs) to return to their homes, UN News reported.
UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters in New York on Monday that the verification mission had visited an IDP camp at Nyala, the provincial capital of South Darfur state. Heavy rains in the region were making it difficult for the group to travel quickly.
The mission had been sent to Darfur as experts from Security Council member countries continued discussions on a draft resolution on Sudan aimed at ending militia attacks and to restore security to Darfur.
UN relief agencies have expressed concern that the Sudanese government has been pressuring IDPs - sometimes with promises of food and supplies - to either return to their villages or to move to other relocation sites.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said while there had been no evidence of forced relocation in Darfur during the past one week, Sudanese officials had continued to talk of an imminent return.
Janjawid militias allied to the government were still acting with impunity in some areas of Darfur, and UN relief agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have suspended operations in certain areas because of insecurity, according to OCHA.
About 1.2 million people live as IDPs and at least 180,000 others are refugees in neighbouring Chad, because of the Janjawid attacks and the fighting between government forces and two rebel groups.
The observer mission was organised under the auspices of the Joint Implementation Mechanism (JIM), set up after the UN and Sudan signed a communiqué on 3 July outlining their commitments to alleviating what has been described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
On 2 August, the mission is scheduled to present its findings to a meeting of the JIM, which will be attended by Jan Pronk, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sudan.
Meanwhile, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has arranged a training programme for Sudanese police officers to help them investigate cases of child rape, reportedly widespread in Darfur. Two Jordanian police officers spent three days providing instruction on techniques of interviewing children who have been sexually assaulted.
Describing the training scheme as a first step, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said rape should never be excused as inevitable during war.
"While insecurity is still rampant in Darfur, the government of Sudan has a responsibility to protect its women and girls from the extraordinary brutality they have endured for far too long," she said.
In a separate development, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it would on Tuesday start a polio vaccination drive in North Darfur State.
Meanwhile, the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has said that there has not been any improvement in the living conditions of people in Darfur despite the increased political and media attention being given to the crisis.
"What you see there is widespread suffering, inadequate relief efforts and continuing violence," Rowan Gillies, MSF's international president, said.
He has just spent a month working in the clinics and camps in Darfur.
Despite greater access to the area and more agencies as well as aid workers arriving, urgent needs are still not being met. "Hardly anyone is getting the care civilians should get in a conflict," Gillies said in a MSF statement.
"And there are pockets of real disaster, where people are at grave risk of dying in large numbers. I am particularly concerned about the food situation," he said.
For example, he said, in one big camp around El Geneina, only 35 percent of the displaced people had a card entitling them to receive food aid from the UN. He said the last time they received any was at the end of May.
Food deliveries are inadequate and uneven across Darfur, according to MSF. A nutritional survey of four refugee camps in May and June found severe malnutrition rates of 4.1 percent to 5.5 percent.
MSF said even with the recently improved deliveries from the UN World Food Programme, only half of the basic needs for food would be met in July.
"Young children, under the age of five, are particularly vulnerable. MSF is currently treating around 8,000 children for malnutrition across Darfur," MSF said.
It added that death rates were already significantly above the 'emergency threshold', a fact MSF said was unsurprising given the acute shortages of water, food, shelter and latrines; which contributed to high levels of diarrhoea among children, a major cause of death.
There were continuing reports of violence, rape, and intimidation against the population, according to MSF.
"I treated women who had been raped and boys who had been beaten when collecting firewood outside the camp perimeter," Gillies said.
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