First UN aid reaches civilians fleeing clashes in Sudan’s Darfur

Khartoum, Feb 11, 2016 (AFP) – The first UN convoy carrying aid to civilians fleeing clashes in Sudan’s Darfur has reached a peacekeeping base where up to 23,000 people have taken shelter, the United Nations said Thursday. Intense fighting erupted last month between insurgents and troops in Darfur’s isolated Jebel Marra area, a stronghold of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army led by Abdulwahid Nur, with tens of thousands of civilians thought to have fled. “A 24-truck convoy with emergency aid arrived late yesterday in Sortoni, North Darfur where 23,000 IDPs (internally displaced persons) — 90 percent of whom are women and children — are gathered after fleeing the recent violence in the Jebel Marra,” Samantha Newport, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told AFP.

The convoy was carrying food, medical supplies, shelter and other essential supplies for civilians at the Sortoni base, run by the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which deployed to the region in 2007. “These people have walked miles or travelled by donkey or camel, some of them being forced to flee as soon as hostilities struck their village and so they did not have time to gather belongings or food,” Newport said. Until the convoy arrived, families who had been able to bring food were sharing it with those who had fled with no possessions, she said.

Since the clashes between government forces and SLA-AW rebels flared on January 15, tens of thousands of civilians are thought to have fled the mountainous Jebel Marra, which straddles South, North and Central Darfur states. The UN says tens of thousands of civilians have fled the fighting but it has been unable to access some areas to verify reports of displacements. “The United Nations is calling for immediate, safe and unfettered access to all people in need, wherever they may be located,” Newport said. It is still verifying the number of people at Sortoni but the figure is thought to be 23,000.

Darfur spiralled into conflict in 2003 when mostly black, African insurgents rebelled against President Omar al-Bashir’s Arab-dominated government, complaining they were being economically and politically marginalised. Bashir mobilised ground troops and allied militia to try to crush the rebels, and was indicted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges related to the bloody campaign. Some 300,000 people hae been killed in the fighting and there are 2.5 million IDPs in Darfur, according to the UN. Khartoum puts the death toll for the Darfur conflict at around 10,000.

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