In another blow to emergency aid operations in Sudan's embattled Darfur region, the International Committee of the Red Cross says it has been forced to evacuate staff from the town of Kutum in northern Darfur due to insecurity. Noel King reports for VOA from Khartoum.
The ICRC says it has withdrawn staff from the volatile town of Kutum in northern Darfur, following a bold early Friday attack by unknown gunmen on the staff residence.
The ICRC commands a large aid operation in the region, helping to repair water sources and supporting health clinics.
ICRC spokeswoman Jessica Barry told VOA the gunmen have not been identified.
She said Sudanese authorities are investigating the incident.
"Gunmen entered into the compound of our residence in Kutum," she said. "They stayed around the compound for a long while. They also shot into the house. Luckily, our two delegates who were inside were not hurt and were able to contact colleagues in another house and raise the alarm. But it was a very serious incident."
Barry told VOA that 10 international ICRC staff members and a Spanish Red Cross worker were evacuated to the north Darfur capital of El Fasher.
She said Sudanese national staff members have remained behind in Kutum to look after ICRC operations.
But Sudanese aid workers also face substantial threats to their safety. Thirteen of them have been killed since the Darfur peace agreement was signed in May.
Barry says concern is now for the aid workers who have agreed to stay behind.
"We would never want for our national staff to be at risk," she added. "It was discussed with all of them and we are closely in touch with them. Our national staff are keeping the office open, of course with a very careful eye on security and we hope to be back as soon as possible."
In recent months, aid operations across Darfur have been hindered following attacks by both Darfur rebel groups and government-sponsored militias known as janjaweed.
This week El Fasher came under attack by janjaweed militias, placing the already shaky Darfur peace agreement in jeopardy.
Former rebels charged that the Sudan government is not doing enough to implement the peace deal.
The United Nations was forced to evacuate 134 UN and non-governmental organization personnel from El Fasher due to heightened insecurity. And the Irish aid organization GOAL announced Friday it will withdraw all international staff from Darfur due to insecurity in the region.
Violence has risen in Darfur in recent weeks, as the Sudanese government battles holdout rebels who have refused to sign on to the Darfur peace agreement.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday had harsh words for Sudan, demanding that the government be brought to task for its role in the conflict.
But Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir told reporters in Khartoum the scale of the conflict has been exaggerated. He blamed recent violence on rebels.
Tens of thousands have died and more than 2 million people have been displaced in Darfur and eastern Chad, since the conflict began nearly four years ago.