Monitors call for UN access in Darfur
El Fasher – The UN peacekeepers must have unrestricted access within Sudan's troubled Darfur region, international monitors overseeing a peace deal for the area said on Monday.
The call came after the United Nations in New York said last week the government in Khartoum was "severely" restricting movement of the UN's blue-helmeted troops in Darfur, where there has been conflict since 2003.
Under the peace deal signed in Doha last July between the government and an alliance of rebel splinter factions, Unamid is guaranteed "unimpeded freedom of movement in all areas and at all times", said members of a commission, known as the Implementation Follow-up Commission (IFC), which monitors the pact.
"They expressed concern about reported restrictions of movements for Unamid," a statement by the Qatari chairperson of the commission said.
Unamid, based in the North Darfur state capital of El Fasher, is the joint African Union-United Nations Mission to the region. Its more than 17 000 troops and about 5 000 police have a mandate to protect civilians.
IFC urged parties to the Doha deal to "fulfill their obligations" of ensuring access.
The comments came at the close of the IFC's second meeting to review implementation of the Doha agreement. Along with Qatar, the IFC's membership includes diplomats from Western, Asian and Arab states.
The UN's peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told a UN Security Council meeting last week of "a sharp increase in restrictions of movement imposed on Unamid by government authorities", coinciding with a rise in clashes between Sudanese armed forces and rebels in recent weeks.
Heavily armed group
There were restrictions on flights and patrols in areas where clashes were reported, he said.
"The denials of access have severely impeded Unamid's ability to implement its mandate and resupply team sites in affected areas," Ladsous said, adding that repeated demands had been made to the Khartoum government to get promised "unhindered" access throughout Darfur.
Darfur rebel groups rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003, and the UN estimates that at least 300 000 people have died because of the conflict since then. The government puts the number of dead at 10 000.
Khalil Ibrahim, who led the Darfur-based Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which was Darfur's most heavily armed group, was killed in December.
JEM and two factions of the Sudan Liberation Army of Darfur refused to sign the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur.
Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by The Hague-based International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Darfur, in Sudan's west.