EU: Darfur development needs security

2012-10-18 10:38

El Fasher - Security is a prerequisite for development in Sudan's impoverished Darfur, EU envoys said on Wednesday as concern mounts over violence in the far west, nine years after a rebellion began.

"We are concerned about the recent deterioration in security in some parts of Darfur," said Tomas Ulicny, the EU ambassador leading a two-day visit by six other top diplomats to North Darfur state.

He spoke during a meeting with state officials including Deputy Governor Al-Fateh Abdel Aziz Abdel Nabi, who said security was improving despite recent "isolated" incidents.

The European Union is one of Sudan's major donors and Ulicny said the bloc is committed to its assistance, but development needs peace and stability.

Recent reports "were not that positive," he said.

The Netherlands ambassador Susan Blankhart said security was not only related to development.

"It's also right now a very pressing issue of security of people, of IDPs [internally displaced people]," she told the meeting.

"There's fighting going on at the moment, which doesn't give too much confidence that it's changing," she said, mentioning recent incidents in North Darfur's Hashaba and Kutum.

The EU mission, which also includes ambassadors from Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Sweden, arrived the day after Darfur's top peacekeeper spoke of "an increasing number of security-related incidents in North Darfur, including armed clashes between members of different communities with high civilian casualties".

Alarming development

It is an "alarming development" which calls for urgent implementation of a government plan to disband armed militias and combat "outlaw groups," Aichatou Mindaoudou of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (Unamid) said at a meeting in Khartoum.

Much of the unrest in Darfur now is linked to pro-government Arab groups, which fight among themselves as well as against the regime, because "they feel protected", humanitarian sources have said.

Unamid said on Sunday it plans further "assessment" of reported violence in Hashaba, where the United States says 70 civilians died between September 25 and 27 in fighting and aerial bombardments between rebels and Sudanese government forces.

"Something very bad happened" in Hashaba, but it was unclear what triggered the incident in which civilians were "caught in the middle," a Sudan analyst has told AFP.

Hashaba is in Kutum district, the scene of unrest since early August when a district chief was shot dead during a carjacking attempt.

That attack sparked retaliatory violence that killed several people and forced 25 000 to flee from a camp for those already displaced by fighting in Darfur.

In early September, another attack targeted the top official in Kutum town.

North Darfur's Mellit town also experienced unrest, when several people died in clashes in August but authorities averted a tribal dispute, official media said.

Farther west, four Nigerian Unamid peacekeepers were killed on October 2 in an ambush near El-Geneina, in West Darfur state.

Security situation

In the latest incident, rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said they and factions of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) fought government troops on Wednesday southwest of North Darfur's capital El Fasher.

Sudan's army spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Deputy Governor Nabi told EU delegates that "we cannot say the crisis in Darfur is over" because insurgent groups, including JEM and SLA, have remained outside a peace deal which the government signed last year with an alliance of rebel splinter factions.

"Nonetheless, there is very good improvement in the security situation" compared with its peak in 2004, he said, with incidents limited to Kutum and Mellit.

"And they are isolated and they are under control," he said.

Ethnic African rebels rose against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003. In response, the government unleashed state-backed Janjaweed Arab militia in a conflict that shocked the world and led to allegations of genocide.

The United Nations estimates at least 300 000 people died but the government puts the toll at 10 000.

An estimated 1.7 million people are still living in camps for the displaced, it says.