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Sudanese Troops Attack and Destroy Camp in Darfur

Refugees Fear Relocation Campaign

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 4, 2004; Page A06

AL-JEER SUREAF, Sudan, Nov. 3 -- Gripping a pair of pliers, a doctor pried a bullet from Amina Kharim's swollen and bleeding left arm. Eight hours earlier, at dawn Tuesday, she had been asleep in a shelter of grass and sticks when government soldiers and police stormed into this camp of 5,000 in South Darfur.

Residents and relief workers said the troops burned shelters, smashed water pipes, fired tear gas and beat people as they fled half-asleep from their huts. Within five hours, they said, the camp was reduced to ashes and about 100 residents were crammed into the makeshift clinic, seeking first aid for gunshot wounds, burns and bruises.

Nawal Adam Ismael, 6, digs tent pole holes as mother Halima Hassan Adam searches rubble of their home. Watching is Nawal's brother Khalid Adam Ismael, 3. (Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

_____Refugees Attacked_____
Photo Gallery: Refugees recount an attack on their camp in south Darfur, Sudan.

"I saw the military coming and heard some shots. Then I felt pain and saw my arm bleeding. Now, my heart is burning with anger," said Kharim, 26, gripping her arm to steady it while the doctor worked in the shade of the mud-and-straw clinic. "There was a lot of blood, and then they started burning my hut. The world is not doing enough to protect us. We are so tired. Can someone please come help us?"

With violence still raging in Darfur's 20-month conflict between African rebels and pro-government forces, aid workers and camp residents said they feared Tuesday's pre-dawn assault was the beginning of a campaign to force displaced people back to villages where they could be vulnerable to further attack by Arab militias known as the Janjaweed.

Within a few hours of the attack, camp residents said, 250 families were placed in government trucks and moved under armed guard to an area 25 miles south. And at a nearby camp, Otash, officials removed an unknown number of residents and blocked access to aid workers.

"This was not supposed to have happened. This is forced relocation," complained Brig. Gen. Festus Okonkwo, a Nigerian officer from the African Union mission in Darfur. Okonkwo's team of 19 civilian monitors and 56 protective troops is based just eight miles from here, but he said news of the attack took him completely by surprise.

"They tried to remove them and they didn't want to go, so still they bulldoze the houses. No one was aware this was happening," he said.

At the United Nations, Jan Pronk, the U.N. envoy to Sudan, said there were "strong indications that war crimes and crimes against humanity have occurred in Darfur on a large and systematic scale," according to the Associated Press." In a report to the U.N. Security Council, he accused Sudan's government of failing to "end impunity" and bring to justice the perpetrators of widespread killings, rapes, looting and village burnings.

In Washington, the State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Bush administration "stands with the international community in holding the government of the Sudan responsible for the violations and requests immediate return" of the camp residents who were moved Tuesday.

Local officials defended the assault on al-Jeer Sureaf, saying they had been asked by the Sudanese government to remove people from the camps who had been stealing food from nearby communities. Some relief workers acknowledged that outsiders had been entering the camps to receive food and medical aid intended for residents displaced by war.

"The African leaders asked us to remove these people," said Mohammed Abdel Osman, an assistant to the governor of South Darfur in the nearby city of Nyala. "We did that service for them." But officials in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, said they knew nothing about the incident and were investigating it.

Aid officials said they were puzzled by the officials' explanation, because the pre-dawn attack appeared aimed not at outside visitors but at the huts of camp residents who have fled war in other parts of Darfur. Some of those whose huts were torched Tuesday said they had escaped from villages that were attacked and burned by the Janjaweed.

As security conditions worsened, the United Nations halted food delivery operations in parts of South Darfur on Tuesday, cutting off aid to about 160,000 refugees in western Darfur. The United Nations also airlifted 88 aid workers out of South Darfur on Monday as a safety precaution.

"The space that we have for humanitarian activity is shrinking. It's a general trend downward, and it's very disturbing," said Barry Came, a spokesman for the World Food Program, a U.N. agency. "The security situation just continues to deteriorate."

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