CNN News : Africa [INTL]
United Nations refugee agency chief Antonio Guterres today told a camp housing some 10,000 displaced people in strife-riven Darfur that despite pressure from the Sudanese Government, they would never be forced to go back to the villages they fled under armed attack over the last two years.
“The UN is independent from the Government, so nobody can force you to return. That’s why the troops of the African Union are here,” Guterres assured the leaders at Riyad camp, who told him that rape and burning of villages were still continuing in Darfur, the western region of Sudan that attracted worldwide concern last year, but has since slipped from the front pages.
The two-year conflict between the Khartoum Government, allied militia and rebels in the region has killed at least 180,000 people and sparked a wave of displacement, with nearly 2 million people crowded into Sudanese camps, and 200,000 others living in 12 refugee camps in neighbouring Chad. The UN estimates that some 3.2 million people in Darfur need humanitarian assistance
Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) is on the second day of a 10-day mission that will also include stops in Chad, and Kenya. While promoting an end to the Darfur conflict, he will also be reviewing UN operations and drawing attention to the financial needs of the many relief agencies working on behalf of Sudanese refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). He heads to Chad tomorrow.
Frustrated leaders at the Riyad camp told Guterres that security for the inhabitants was a bigger issue than food, which was also scarce. Displaced women told him they face murder or rape if they venture outside the confines of the camp to search for firewood.
“There is still rape going on. Genocide is still going on and burning of villages is going on,” the chief leader of the camp told him. “We have no security in this camp. Our situation is not living. It is as if we are in prison.”
Guterres said UNHCR has worked with the African Union to increase peacekeeping patrols and to create a civilian police post inside the camp. “We need them to make sure the Sudanese police abide by the rules, respect and protect people and do not attack the people. With their post in the camp, they will be able to see what the government does,” he said.