Fri, Dec 08, 2006 - Page 6 News List

UN evacuates personnel from Darfur town

INADEQUATE PROTECTION Residents and refugees near El Fasher protested against African Union peacekeeping troops ill-equipped to stop the aggression in the region


The UN has airlifted dozens of its own and other agencies' staff out of the main Darfur town of El Fasher and said on Wednesday it was prepared for more evacuations if the already tense situation worsens.

The evacuations came a day after the African Union (AU) said rebel groups could attack El Fasher within 24 hours.

It added that the AU base in the town was a possible target.

"The rationale behind the decision is the heightened security concerns we have as a result of the increased presence of the Janjaweed in the town of El Fasher and other armed groups in the area," Radhia Achouri, UN spokeswoman in Sudan, said by telephone.

The UN said that 82 of the 134 non-essential staff who left El Fasher on Tuesday night were its own workers and the remainder were from other agencies.

"If the tension subsides we will go back in. If it gets worse we can pull more people out. We are prepared to take more flights today," said Dawn Blalock, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Janjaweed militia entered El Fasher on Monday and started looting the cattle market before clashing with members of the Sudan Liberation Movement's (SLM) armed wing, witnesses and former rebels said.

The AU said that two SLM fighters and two militia members had been killed.

Janjaweed forces had also killed three students.

One resident in the town said that scores of students took to the streets to protest the killings by Janjaweed militias on Tuesday.

"Police fired shots in the air to disperse the protestors," the source said by telephone on condition of anonymity.

Outside the same city, El Fasher, civilians and refugees rioted Wednesday against the AU peacekeeping mission for not doing enough to protect them from militia attacks.

The AU, which maintains a 7,000-strong force in Darfur, had no immediate comment on the latest situation.

The UN said that gunshots had been heard two times on Tuesday and again on Wednesday during a demonstration.

"Few people are out in the streets and shops are closed. Heavy government security is deployed in the town," the world body said in a statement.

The ill-equipped and under-funded AU forces, which have been unable to stop the violence in Darfur, have warned any group against attacking its mission in El Fasher.

The EU condemned the outbreak of violence in the town and said that it would consider any attack against the AU as "a premeditated and intentional violation of the existing ceasefire agreements and UN Security Council Resolutions."

Khartoum has rejected a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the deployment of 22,500 UN troops and police to stop the violence in Darfur.

Rights groups say Khartoum used largely Arab militias known locally as Janjaweed as a proxy force to quell the rebellion which flared in Darfur in 2003.

Under a May peace agreement signed by the ruling National Congress Party government and one rebel faction, SLM, Khartoum was to have disarmed the Janjaweed, which the government labels as outlaws.

But SLM has accused Khartoum of rearming the militias.

SLM spokesman Saif Haroun said the movement reserved the right to defend its people against the Janjaweed if the AU and the government failed to do so.

Noureddine Mezni, the AU spokesman in Sudan, said the committee in charge of implementing the May peace deal would meet later on Wednesday to review the situation in Darfur and would make decisions to improve it.

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