Fri, Nov 12, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Police attack Darfur refugee camp


Police drove through a Darfur camp for displaced people on Wednesday, smashing makeshift homes with their trucks, a UN spokesman and Amnesty International said.

It was the second alleged government raid in two weeks on El Geer camp, near Nyala in southern Darfur. Last week, security forces forced 8,000 of the camp's inhabitants to move elsewhere -- a relocation that was condemned by the UN and the US.

"In the early hours [of Wednesday], four small truckloads of police drove into El Geer camp and they knocked over some of the shacks which the [inhabitants] have constructed," said George Somerwill, a UN spokesman in Khartoum.

He added that UN staff in the camp were present when the police drove in and they heard the police fire shots in the air.

Sudanese government officials could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

Amnesty International said the police fired tear gas, assaulted residents including the deputy chief of the camp, and bulldozed shelters in El Geer. In an e-mail sent to The Associated Press in Cairo, the London-based rights group said the police ignored protests from UN and African Union officials.

"This attack shows a callous disregard on the part of the government of Sudan for its most basic obligations under humanitarian and human rights law," said Amnesty International.

In New York, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said that after the police fired into the air at El Geer, "UN agencies and partner groups were immediately withdrawn from the area for their own safety."

The top UN envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk, who is in southern Darfur, is expected to visit El Geer "as soon as possible," Eckhard said.

The alleged police raid on El Geer came hours before government and rebel negotiators ended a round of Darfur peace talks in Nigeria. The two sides broke off with a partial agreement on security and refugee issues but no overall settlement to the conflict that began in February 2003.

The rebellion and a devastating counter-insurgency campaign have driven 1.8 million refugees from their homes. International agencies estimate that since March, disease, malnutrition and clashes among the displaced have killed more than 70,000 people. Many more have been killed in fighting between the rebels and government troops and allied militia, but no firm estimate of the war's direct toll exists.

Last week, security forces relocated thousands of El Geer refugees against their will and denied access to aid groups. The move was apparently in retaliation for the abduction of 18 Arabs by Darfur rebels.

Sudan denied closing the camp, and said angry Arab tribesmen had gathered in the area.

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