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Africa

2004-02-03

AFRICA/SUDAN – FIGHTING CONTINUES IN WEST SUDAN. REPORTS OF VIOLENCE AND MASSACRE OF CIVILIANS. MORE THAN 100,000 TAKE REFUGE IN NEARBY CHAD. SINCE FEBRUARY LAST YEAR 3,000 KILLED

Khartoum (Fides Service)- The humanitarian situation in Darfur, west Sudan, is ever more critical. International humanitarian organisations say the Sudanese army and airforce are attacking villages along the border with Chad, and that air strikes have caused at least 100,000 to flee for safety to Chad. Men in uniform have been seen killing, raping, and committing all sorts of violence and abuse against civilians. The troops are said to be regular army troops flanked by members of Janjaweed a local pro-government militia group.
For years there has been tension in this region between nomad Arabs and African farmers disputing scarce water reserves and scraps of fertile land. Only more recently the tension became armed military conflict. Military operations in Darfur started in February last year, 2003 and peaked in recent weeks. It is estimated that at least 3,000 people have died, 670,000 are internally displaced and more than 100,000 have taken refuge in Chad.
The government army strikes with fighter helicopters and converted Antonov transport planes. The two guerrilla movements fighting back, Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) say they are fighting to get more attention from the central government, accusing it of ignoring the region .
The President of Chad, Idriss Déby, has offered to mediate between Khartoum and guerrilla groups in Darfur. The Sudan government welcomes the mediation. A Sudanese representative said “Sudan has great confidence in President Déby who is informed of the situation in the region”. Chad has intervened several times to mediate in the conflict Darfur. The last attempt, which failed, was on 16 December 2003.
The intensification of fighting in Darfur comes just as new hope rises for peace in Southern Sudan, the scene of 20 years of conflict between the government army, flanked by various militia groups and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). War in the south started in 1983 when Sharia Muslim law was introduced and the people in the south, mainly Christians and Animists, began a revolt against the government. The war has left more than two million dead, millions more refugees and widespread devastation.
In September 2003 the government and the SPLA reached an agreement for the withdrawal of government troops from southern Sudan and the progressive fusion of SPLA soldiers with the regular army. The parties also agreed to have an interim period of six years followed by a referendum for self-determination among the southern peoples. (L.M.) (Fides Service 3/2/2004, lines 40 words 469)

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