UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
SUDAN: Aid delivery hampered by road closures in West Darfur
EL GENEINA, 12 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - Rampant insecurity has led to the closure of roads out of El Geneina, the capital of the strife-torn Sudanese state of West Darfur, hindering the work of humanitarian agencies, aid workers said.
"With each passing day we are in a race against time to get assistance to over half a million people to whom we have lost regular access," Andy Pendleton, area coordinator for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in West Darfur, said in El Geneina on Sunday.
"The situation is desperate, more desperate than ever before," he warned.
With the roads closed since mid-September, a single helicopter was the only means left to humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps.
"Over the past six weeks, security incidents have happened almost every day - sometimes twice a day - which has led to the shutting down of all roads out of El Geneina for ground travel," Pendleton said.
"The incidents have increased dramatically and changed in nature. It has changed the political climate," he added.
On 9 October, 18 military observers of the African Union Mission in Sudan were abducted southeast of the town of Tina, north of El Geneina. While 16 of them had been released, two team leaders and their vehicles were still being held.
Earlier, some 35 IDPs were killed and 10 seriously wounded by armed militia during an attack on Aro Sharow IDP camp on 28 September.
A local observer noted that the bandits in the region had become much more audacious and blatant in their actions, robbing vehicles at gunpoint and levying taxes at fixed checkpoints on roads towards El Geneina.
On 18 September, the local source recounted, after a bandit was killed and another captured during the robbery of a civilian vehicle, 300 militias arrived in the centre of town to demand the hand-over of the captured man at El Geneina's police station, resulting in his release.
In another incident, staff members of an NGO were abducted for two-and-a-half hours; the men were robbed and beaten, while the women were stripped naked and whipped with sticks.
"We had an understanding with regard to humanitarian access in the past, but those deals are no longer being honoured," Pendleton noted.
"El Geneina is getting suffocated," the local observer noted. "We have angry nomads to the north who were blocked from following their usual migration routes by SLA [Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A)] rebels, there are bandits east and south of town, and tensions between the Arab militia and the SLA southwest of El Geneina."
The food programme coordinator for the NGO, Save the Children US (SC-US), Mohamed Hakindar, told IRIN aid deliveries to a number of villages hosting IDP communities south of El Geneina - such as Beida, Konyo Haraza, Ararah and Masteri - had been affected in August and September.
"In September we could only do 66 percent of our planned operations, rather than the usual 95 percent, because of insecurity," Hakindar noted.
The women protection officer for SC-US, Esther Dingemans, warned that while the insecurity had led to serious delays in service delivery to larger IDP camps, support to smaller areas had come to a halt altogether.
"Sisi is an IDP camp of 5,000 people just south of El Geneina that has been cut off completely for the past two weeks, after our staff came back to El Geneina and couldn't go back," she said. "There have been frequent reports of rape in Sisi in the past and I'm very worried about what is happening there right now."
Pendleton said one helicopter would not be able to sustain the humanitarian operation in the long run, as it could not deliver the heavy and bulky supplies that many locations would soon need.
Fighting in the three states of North, South and West Darfur began when the rebels took up arms in February 2003, complaining of discrimination and oppression of the western region by the Sudanese government. The government is accused of unleashing militia - known as the Janjawid - on civilians in an attempt to fight the rebellion.
According to the UN, at least 2.9 million people continue to be affected by the conflict, of whom 1.85 million are internally displaced or have fled to neighbouring Chad.
The African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council decided on Tuesday to refer the 'deteriorating security situation" in Darfur to the UN Security Council.
On 1 October, the special representative of the AU, Baba Gana Kingibe, said there was "neither good faith nor commitment on the part of any of the parties" involved in the conflict. He blamed the Sudanese government, the Janjawid militia, Chadian rebels and the SLM/A for recent attacks in the region.
However, the Sudanese government denied any involvement in the recent attacks, and said on Tuesday it was "a partner with the African Union in the endeavours to pacify the region and address the underlying reasons for the violence and war".
This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005
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