Just hours after the government agreed to a peace deal Tuesday aimed at ending violence in Darfur, Sudanese police arrived at this battered camp in the middle of the night, beating residents with wooden poles, bulldozing and burning shelters and firing tear gas into a health clinic, residents and aid workers reported.
The assault capped a series of often violent government raids over the past week, aimed at relocating residents to new camps. It also came despite international condemnation of the raids and requests from the United Nations and the Bush administration that displaced families not be forcibly moved to new locations.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Wednesday in Washington that he had spoken with Sudan's vice president over the weekend and "specifically said that this kind of behavior was unacceptable, we couldn't understand it and it was not helping us reach a solution."
The U.N. Security Council is due to hold a meeting in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, next week to discuss the crisis in Sudan, where tens of thousands have died and about 1.5 million people have been displaced during 20 months of fighting between African rebels and government troops and their Arab militia allies.
The panel could impose sanctions on the Khartoum government if it finds that serious abuses of civilians have taken place. A U.N. report last week said there was evidence of war crimes and mass abuses by all parties to the conflict.
By midmorning Wednesday, the charred, tattered remains of burned huts at Old al-Jeer Sureaf dotted the once-crammed tent city of about 5,000 people. Fifteen people had been seriously injured, 10 community leaders were under arrest and several mothers said they had lost their children in the chaos.
One local sheik, Taher Hasaballeh, was beaten by 10 police officers and taken to jail, witnesses said. He had refused to leave the camp on Saturday and led a community sit-in at a straw-roofed mosque.
Jan Pronk, the U.N. envoy to Sudan, visited the half-destroyed camp Wednesday afternoon, wading through a jumble of singed blankets, jerrycans, bowls and plastic sandals. Sudan's foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, and other officials from Khartoum accompanied him. Pronk made no public comment during his visit.
The group toured the health clinic, speaking to women who said they had been raped during the raids and inspecting burn marks on the building from tear gas canisters. One Sudanese official expressed frank skepticism about the accounts of rape, calling the women "very good actresses."
Afterward, Pronk and the officials attended a tense meeting with humanitarian workers in the area. Government representatives said that the land was private property and that residents were being moved to a better location. Last week, officials said the camp was being cleared because people were posing as refugees so they could collect food and blankets.
"They have been taken to a better place," said Ahmed Ali Abdallah, a government employee who runs a new camp 17 miles south of the old camp. "The conditions of life were not suitable for them."
The violence began Nov. 1 when camp residents were told to move to the new al-Jeer Sureaf location but refused to go. Government police and soldiers swept through the old camp twice last week, on Tuesday and Saturday, burning huts and swinging sticks, residents said.
Several hundred families were forcibly relocated, and some aid workers and U.N. officials said they believed the government was moving camp occupants in an effort to root out rebel forces.
At the new camp, large white tents donated by the Saudi Red Crescent Society have been set up in neat rows. But the camp is isolated in an area surrounded by sorghum fields where pro-government militiamen known as the Janjaweed reportedly have set up a base.
"We were so afraid of being moved there. I have been beaten twice for refusing to leave," Zenab Abdulla Rahaman, 26, said as she sat staring numbly at the floor inside the clinic run by the International Medical Corps, an American aid group.
Rahaman said that she was beaten by police during the two previous raids and that early Wednesday she was sleeping in the camp mosque with nearly a hundred other people when she was dragged away by a police officer and raped in a nearby field. A nurse at the clinic taped bandages over cuts around her thighs.
A stream of other patients arrived to seek treatment for spinal injuries, cuts and bruises from beatings. Several mothers said their children had become lost in the violence and confusion. One woman, Khadija Dahiwa Tagal, said two of her six children had run away to hide and had not returned.
Witnesses said the police arrived about midnight but caused little trouble until dawn, when they started moving aggressively through the camp. Some residents said the police were accompanied by Janjaweed militiamen, but it was not clear what role, if any, the fighters played in the events.
On Wednesday morning, aid workers entered the camp in U.N. trucks and kept vigil all day, saying they were there to ensure that more residents would not be attacked. One nurse said she would sleep in the clinic overnight.
All day, groups of police roamed the fields and gathered inside the mosque. They also kept guard over the water supply in case residents tried to rebuild their shelters. Some gestured angrily with their sticks at stragglers who tried to salvage belongings from their crushed shelters.
The residents of al-Jeer Sureaf are among about 1.5 million Africans who live in squalid tent cities across Darfur after being driven from their farms by the fighting, which broke out in February 2003 when African tribes rebelled against the Arab-led government.
In retaliation, the United Nations has said, the government has bombed villages and armed the Janjaweed militias, while tens of thousands of people have died from hunger, disease and violence; the Bush administration has described the crisis as genocide.
Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.