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Rights Group Urges Sudan to Halt Darfur Camp Evictions

The international organization Human Rights Watch is calling on the Sudanese government to put an end to forcibly relocating people displaced by conflict in the Western region of Darfur. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, the United Nations has accused Sudanese police of forcibly moving displaced people from a camp in South Darfur.

According to U.N. officials, Sudanese police on Sunday relocated a number of displaced people from the Otash refugee camp near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. The U.N.'s top humanitarian official, John Holmes, said that the security forces were using sticks and rubber hoses to round up camp residents.

Human Rights Watch reported yesterday that at least 400 families have been moved from Otash camp and another site nearby. The people who were moved had reportedly fled from the Kalma camp, the largest in Darfur with roughly 90,000 people, following an earlier outbreak of violence.

The Sudanese government has argued that the displaced camps should be closed because they are too dangerous and too dirty. But officials deny that they are forcing people to leave.

A Darfur researcher for Human Rights Watch in London, Selena Brewer, says that the Sudanese government has made similar attempts to close the Kalma camp in the past.

"Well the government's been saying for a long time that they don't want Kalma camp to carry on as it is," she said. "This first started in 2005. There was a similar attempt to forcibly remove people from the camp and there was international outcry at the time and it did come to a halt but then again six months later the government was exerting pressure by putting a commercial ban on the market and on people bringing food and other goods into the camp. Their claim is that they have to close it for either military reasons or public health reasons. But there's no reason to believe that those claims are justified."

There are an estimated 2.5 million displaced people in Darfur. Many camps are located near major towns like Nyala, and groups like Human Rights Watch accuse the government of trying to move displaced people to locations that are more remote and less secure.

Holmes says that involuntary relocation violates a memorandum of understanding signed between the Sudanese government and the United Nations in 2004.

Brewer says her organization fears that the government will continue to attempt to move people from the camps.

"Our biggest fear is that this is going to continue," she said. "Even if it doesn't continue in the next week there is obviously a pattern here. It happens once, there's outcry, they stop trying to move people for a few months, then they try a new method of pressure"

Meanwhile, peace negotiations between the government and Darfur rebels opened in Libya on Saturday. But with many of the key rebel leaders declining to attend, the talks have so far accomplished little.