Darfur: thousands flee homes in new explosion of violence

 CAFOD partners say they are extremely concerned about an explosion in violence in the Taaisha region of South Darfur resulting in a flood of terrified villagers seeking safety in camps. Over the past three days over five thousand people have arrived at camps near the area having been forced from their homes by hundreds of armed men. Villagers claim that over 300 attackers armed with guns took part in the raids. The attacks followed the pattern of looting, raping and shooting that has become sadly familiar in Darfur. The attack occurred as United Nations Refugee Commissioner Ruud Lubbers visited Sudan for talks with the Sudanese Government over the deteriorating situation in Darfur. The Arab militia known as the Janjaweed is accused of carrying out a scorched earth policy against the African origin villagers in Darfur, resulting in what the UN is calling the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The ACT/Caritas Emergency Darfur programme, in which CAFOD is playing a leading role, has struggled to provide the flood of new arrivals in the Hasaba, Bashom and Burga camps with plastic sheeting for shelter and water containers. Many villagers have little or no shelter from the sun and have arrived with little or nothing in the way of belongings. Programme manager Jose Simsa fears that the security situation could further deteriorate making it too dangerous for humanitarian organisations to work and leaving villagers stranded without help. "We are extremely concerned. These people risk being totally cut off and they are at risk of famine. There are still ongoing attacks directed at innocent civilians and the number of people forced from their homes continues to increase. "Our greater worry now is how we will be able to reach these people, in this highly insecure and dangerous situation," said Ms Simsa. Field staff on the ground heard gunshots nearby when fighting erupted on 25 September. Then thousands of people started moving towards camps in the area. At the moment there is insufficient shelter, water, sanitation, medical care or food available for new arrivals. "Mothers are sitting in the open space and some under the trees, trying to comfort the children. The worst is to see the look in their eyes, they are so traumatised, so much in pain, so desperate for help. Women we spoke to said they feared what will now happen, they no longer have enough food to feed their children," said health promotion officer Ismat Saeed. Villagers reported that women had been abducted by the Janjaweed militia who took part in the raids. It is not known how many people are missing following the raids. Insecurity remains the number one problem in Darfur. Attacks are still continuing throughout the region hampering the relief effort by humanitarian agencies and ruling out the possibility for the foreseeable future of villagers returning home. Around 1.5million people have been forced from their homes by the conflict and, unable to return home, many are now extremely vulnerable to hunger and disease. CAFOD said it believes that the Government of Sudan, the rebels and the militias including the Janjaweed must be held to their obligations to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access. The agency is calling on the British Government and the international community to put sustained pressure on all parties in the conflict to protect civilians, fulfil the ceasefire agreements they have signed and engage fully in the peace negotiations taking place in Abuja, Nigeria.

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