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UNHCR: Death Toll in Darfur Camp Attack Rises

The U.N. Refugee Agency reports the death toll in a murderous assault on a camp and nearby villages in the West Darfur region of Sudan has risen to 34. A UNHCR team of protection monitors that went to the region Friday morning describes a scene of fear and desolation.

The U.N. Refugee Agency says the Aro Sharow camp in Western Darfur was attacked on Wednesday by a group of 250 to 300 armed Arab men riding horses and camels. They also attacked some nearby villages.

UNHCR Spokesman, Ron Redmond, tells VOA 34 people were killed, 10 were seriously wounded and 80 makeshift shelters in the camp were burned.

"In all, 17 of the dead actually lived in the camp and another 17 lived in nearby villages and had been visiting the camp because Wednesday was market day," he said. "All 34 of the victims were males. The UNHCR team witnessed the burial of one of the 34 dead and said the man appeared to have had his arms bound before he was killed. Witnesses in the camp said he had been tied up and dragged to his death behind a horse."

After the attack, Mr. Redmond says 4,000 to 5,000 residents of the camp fled to the nearby Jebel Moon mountains for safety. But, the UNHCR team reports many of these people now have returned to the camp.

According to the survivors, the armed men divided into three groups after entering the camp. They said one group stole the cattle, a second chased and killed the people in the camp and a third group set fire to the flimsy shelters.

This is the first time a camp for internally displaced people has been attacked since fighting erupted in Darfur in early 2003. It follows a series of worrisome security incidents throughout the region. The camp is located in an area that has been a no-go zone for the United Nations for months because of the violence.

Mr. Redmond says the UNHCR is concerned the worsening security situation might prevent vital aid from getting through to tens of thousands of vulnerable people.

"And, we also worry that if this violence and insecurity continues, we could see more people fleeing from Darfur to nearby Chad where we have already got 12 refugee camps bursting at the seams with about 200,000 people," he said. "So, we sincerely hope that this violence can be brought to an end and that the Sudanese government accepts its responsibility to protect its own citizens and halts this violence. "

Since the war began, tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than two million made homeless. Little progress has been made in peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria.