UNITED NATIONS - The deaths of two humanitarian workers in a landmine explosion
in northern Darfur early this week and the painfully slow response of the world
community to the ongoing violence and atrocities have worsened the spreading
crisis in Sudan, according to senior UN officials and humanitarian organizations.
For months, human rights groups and other bodies have called loudly for the
United Nations and powerful countries to intervene to end attacks against ethnic
groups in the region, with little effect.
"It's a tragedy when civilians, including aid workers, lose their lives
while trying to provide assistance to people living in deplorable conditions,"
says Coco McCabe, media-information officer at OxfamAmerica.
The recent deaths of two staff members from Save the Children, have been felt
deeply by everyone at Oxfam, she said.
"The incident will not affect our programs in North Darfur, and we will
continue with them. Oxfam is not actively working in the area where the explosion
occurred," McCabe told IPS. "However, the tragedy does highlight the
very real dangers to all agencies working in the region."
The two who died were British and Sudanese nationals, while a third staff member
was injured when a landmine struck their vehicle.
Church World Service (CWS)
and Action by Churches Together (ACT)/Caritas
International a coalition of humanitarian groups operating in Darfur
in western Sudan says some recent incidents have affected their work
in the war-ravaged country.
Recent attacks include one on Bashum Camp, "where we are engaged in health
services and supplementary feeding," Rick Augsburger, CWS emergency response
program director, told IPS.
"The investigation into the deaths of Save the Children UK aid workers
from the landmine incident has also meant increased security measures for all
NGO staff and some areas which are for the moment considered 'no travel' areas.
However ACT/CWS work in many camps continues," he added.
The incident has also prompted the United Nations to declare northern Darfur
a "no-go" zone. UN Spokeswomen Radhia Achouri was quoted as saying
that security has worsened, with ceasefire violations and a growing number of
rapes and abductions.
In a statement released Thursday, the Rome-based World
Food Program (WFP) said security in the region is so "volatile"
it is hampering the delivery and distribution of food aid to all internally
displaced persons (IDPs).
WFP said the "no-go" zone also means that about 50,000 people, mostly
IDPs, will not get food assistance jeopardizing the agency's target of
feeding 2 million people in Darfur every month by the end of this year.
The atrocities in Darfur, where the UN says an estimated 70,000 black Africans
have been killed and over 1.5 million displaced, have been committed by marauding
Arab militias called Janjaweed ("men on horseback"). The Sudanese
government has not only been accused of creating the militias but also of turning
a blind eye to their continued killings.
The African Union (AU) said Friday it would start deploying 4,000 more troops
to Darfur this weekend, boosting its current 350-member force in the area, according
to media reports.
But despite an appeal by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for increased funds,
equipment and logistical support for the AU force, the response from the international
community has been poor.
Some donor governments, including France, Spain, Italy and Japan have given
woefully inadequate support, says McCabe. "These governments must pledge additional
funds now, above and beyond their regular contributions to humanitarian aid.
They must make these funds available immediately," she added.
UN Special Representative for Sudan Jan Pronk told the Security Council in
September that "resources have to be redoubled or more."
He said an additional $250 million in humanitarian aid, at least, is needed
for Darfur until the end of this year.
McCabe said the international community must provide additional funding and
logistical and human resources to strengthen the ability of the AU mission to
stop the violence against civilians that continues throughout the region. The
AU needs to clearly articulate its requests, she added.
Speaking to reporters in Ireland on Thursday, Annan said western nations have
not only been slow in responding to AU demands but also to requests for more
peacekeepers for UN missions.
"The European Union [EU] is in a position to provide specialized skills
that our largest troop contributors [mostly from developing nations] may not
be able to give us, and to deploy more rapidly than we can," Annan said.
He pointed out that less than one-tenth of all UN peacekeepers come from EU
countries, while in Africa that proportion drops to one in 20.
"In the last nine months, with five new operations either deployed or
on the drawing board, the demand on our peacekeeping has jumped by about 50
percent," Anna said. "We have around 56,000 troops and military observers
deployed today, but we desperately need another 30,000 of them not to
mention many more civilian personnel, both police and others."
The secretary-general underscored the gravity of the situation in Darfur, where
current fighting between government and rebel forces has uprooted more than
1.5 million people from their homes and forced another 200,000 to flee to neighboring
"The humanitarian effort needs more money, and the African Union needs
concrete support including logistics, equipment and financing, as well
as political pressure on the parties," he said. "Every country and
organization that can help must do so, now."
Asked whether humanitarian organizations expect increased violence despite
AU intervention, Donna J. Derr, associate director of CWS's international emergency
response program, told IPS: "Until a much larger contingent from the African
Union is actually in place in Darfur and fully supported by international governments,
the possibility of violence remains high."
According to published reports, Washington has awarded contracts worth over
$20 million to two U.S. companies to provide logistical support, including military
transports and helicopters, to the AU.
But the U.S. military is shying away from peacekeeping operations in sub-Saharan
Africa in general, and in Sudan in particular. The U.S. Defense Department says
it prefers to use military resources from the private sector than from its Armed
Under threat of UN sanctions, the Sudanese government has agreed to permit
the AU to expand its existing force but has refused to concede any change in
the mandate that will facilitate its "intervention" in the current
The 15-member Security Council, which adopted a resolution in September calling
for an international commission of inquiry to investigate reports of violations
of international humanitarian law, continues to monitor the situation.
But last week a coalition of 10 human rights groups, including Amnesty International,
Human Rights First, International League for Human Rights, Freedom House and
Human Rights Watch, urged the council to take further steps to address the crisis
"It is essential that the Security Council quickly establish an effective
force to protect civilian populations by passing a resolution extending and
strengthening the mandate of the existing African Union monitoring force,"
said the letter.
Otherwise, the groups warned, AU forces will remain "powerless to protect
The Security Council is now awaiting a report from the five-member commission
of inquiry, appointed by Annan last week. It is headed by Antonio Cassese, a
prominent Italian judge who was elected the first president of the International
Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia.
Oxfam, like all other humanitarian organizations on the ground, is monitoring
development on a day-to-day basis. The agency has made the safety of its staff
its top priority, "and we continue to maintain strict security management
procedures," McCabe says.
"Oxfam staff have not been affected in any security incidents, although
we have postponed trips due to reports of violence on roads we were planning
to take," she added.
(Inter Press Service)