International Community Failing to Protect Civilians in Darfur, Warns Oxfam

By Coco McCabe

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Civilians in Darfur continue to suffer from atrocities on a massive scale because the world is doing far too little to protect them, international aid agency Oxfam said today.

The agency called on the international community and parties to the conflict to urgently step up efforts to protect civilians from continuing attacks.

Every morning in hundreds of camps and towns across Darfur, nearly 2 million people made homeless by fighting wake up to another day of harassment, robbery, and violent attacks. Every week women and girls are viciously beaten or raped while collecting water and firewood. Some of them die as a result of their injuries.

"I recently returned from a 1,000-kilometer road trip through South and West Darfur, where the level of violence and suffering is appalling,” said Adrian McIntyre, a spokesman for Oxfam in Sudan.  “In the Wadi Salih province, armed militias prowl the countryside while displaced people are living in fear, effectively imprisoned in the camps and towns where they have sought refuge. Men can't go outside these settlements for fear of being killed. Women agonize over whether the need to collect water and firewood so they can cook for their families outweighs the threat of being beaten or raped."

The African Union mission in Darfur has a vital role in ending violence against civilians. Oxfam's team in Kebkabiya reports that the visible presence of African Union ceasefire monitors and troops has helped to improve security in this North Darfur town. But the scale of the crisis in Darfur exceeds the capacity of the current AU mission to respond.

To date, only half of the 3,320 personnel promised in October 2004 for Darfur have arrived. Shortages of funding, logistical support, communications equipment, accommodations and transport have also seriously hindered the mission. The AU has never even been able to visit some of the places where threats to civilians are greatest. Delays in deploying to the most volatile areas of Darfur mean that hundreds of thousands of people remain vulnerable to attack.

"We've seen that an AU presence helps to reduce threats of violence in the limited areas where they are deployed," said Caroline Nursey, Oxfam's Regional Director for the Horn of Africa. "But the current AU mission needs more resources and personnel to do the job properly. A fully expanded AU mission in Darfur, including additional troops, ceasefire monitors, and civilian police, must be deployed at once. The international community must do whatever it takes to strengthen the ability of the AU mission to protect civilians in Darfur from violent attacks."

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