South Sudan Referendum Should Not Distract From New Abuses
(New York) - Sudanese government and rebel attacks on civilians in Darfur have dramatically increased in recent weeks without signs of abating, Human Rights Watch said today. The government of Sudan, its allied forces, and rebel factions should end abuses against civilians, and concerned governments - still focused on South Sudan's referendum - should press for an end to unlawful attacks and accountability for abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
"While the international community remains focused on South Sudan, the situation in Darfur has sharply deteriorated," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "We are seeing a return to past patterns of violence, with both government and rebel forces targeting civilians and committing other abuses."
On January 25, 2011, Sudanese government air and ground forces fought rebel troops in and around the town of Tabit, North Darfur. The fighting reportedly destroyed eight villages and caused thousands of civilians to flee the area.
At Tabit, and in other clashes in Darfur since early December 2010, both government and rebel forces carried out targeted attacks on civilian populations based on their ethnic affiliations, Human Rights Watch said. The fighting has caused civilian deaths and injuries, destruction and looting of civilian property, and mass displacement of tens of thousands of people to displaced persons camps and safe havens.
The renewed fighting began after the Sudanese government severed ties with the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) rebel faction loyal to Minni Arko Minawi, who signed the Darfur Peace Agreement in 2006 and was appointed special adviser to President Omar al-Bashir and head of the Darfur Transitional Regional Authority. Relations between the government and Minawi soured in late 2010, resulting in Minawi's dismissal from government in early December.
According to the United Nations, the violence in December alone caused 40,000 people to flee their homes. Many are taking refuge near African Union/United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) bases in Khor Abeche, Shearia, and Shangil Tobayi.
Sudan has continued to restrict UN and humanitarian agencies from accessing conflict-affected areas, including Tabit, the site of the January 25 clash. The government also still bars access to much of eastern Jebel Mara where, since early 2010, government forces and militias have clashed with the SLA faction led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur, and attacked civilians from the majority Fur ethnicity. Humanitarian agencies have also been denied access from the Wada'a and Khazan Jedid areas, between North and South Darfur.
December Clashes and Attacks in North-South Corridor
Fighting in the corridor between North and South Darfur started on December 8, when rebels from the Minni Minawi faction of the SLA ambushed a convoy containing the governor of North Darfur at Shangil Tobayi on the road to El Fasher, North Darfur's capital. Two government soldiers and three rebel fighters were killed.
Attack on Displaced Persons Camp
On January 23, heavily armed government forces surrounded and entered the Zamzam displaced persons camp in North Darfur. They rounded up and detained 37 people; at least 27 men remain in detention facilities. Human Rights Watch received reports that the government forces entered civilian homes, looted properties and beat several people, killing one man.
The peace process for Darfur has stalled, with government and rebel factions unable to agree on key terms. In early December 2010, the SLA's Minawi, who signed the Darfur Peace Agreement in 2006, formally broke ties with the government after the federal minister of defense, Ibrahim Mohammed Hussein, said that SLA fighters were "a legitimate military target." Government forces arrested several of Minawi's cadres in North and South Darfur, and President al-Bashir dismissed Minawi from his position in government.