African Union Force Ineffective, Complain Refugees in Darfur

African Union peacekeepers and a U.S. adviser, center in fatigues, listen to refugees living in the Fata Borno camp.
African Union peacekeepers and a U.S. adviser, center in fatigues, listen to refugees living in the Fata Borno camp. (By Alfred De Montesquiou -- Associated Press)
By Alfred de Montesquiou
Associated Press
Monday, October 16, 2006

KASSAB, Sudan, Oct. 15 -- Refugees living in camps scattered across this region of western Sudan say an African Union peacekeeping mission has done little to protect them, even as rising violence is driving away crucial humanitarian aid.

"You have been here for three years now, and what have you done for us?" a tribal leader bitterly asked a delegation of African Union soldiers and police that visited the Kassab refugee camp last week.

As they often must, the peacekeepers explained to camp delegates that they were in Darfur only to monitor the violence and had no mandate to fight it.

"You are witnessing what happens, but you aren't helping," said Attaieb Adem, one of the camp delegates.

The Sudanese army, backed by an Arab militia called the Janjaweed, and Darfur rebel groups began fighting in 2003. Since then, as many as 450,000 people have died in violence and from disease, and 2.5 million have been displaced.

The African Union mission came in 2004, but anger over its perceived ineffectiveness is strong.

"If there is nothing you can do, then you might as well go home, so that the United Nations" can come, said Adem, referring to the hope by many in Darfur that a U.N. Security Council resolution to send about 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers to the region will be implemented. The mandate of the African Union force expires at the end of the year.

Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, fiercely opposes the U.N. proposal, saying it would breach the country's sovereignty.

The refugees in Kassab say they do not see how their security could get any worse in their camp, on the front line of a murky war zone.

The Janjaweed militia has been blamed for much of the bloodshed. But rebel violence and hostility to aid workers has escalated since May, when one rebel faction signed a shaky peace agreement with the government. Humanitarian groups and African Union police say they withdrew from Kassab in September mostly because of the rebel violence.

The camp's clinic closed, so refugees in need of treatment trudge to the nearest town. Women say taking that road, or even collecting firewood around the camp, exposes them to robbery and rape.

"Every day we risk being beaten, or even worse," said Kharidja Ibrahim, some of whose family members had gone wood-gathering that morning. "We're waiting. In a few hours, we'll hear what has happened to them."

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