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Situation in South Darfur Deteriorates


The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay says she is alarmed by reports of the rapidly deteriorating conditions facing civilians in Sudan's Muhajeria area of South Darfur. She notes fighting between government forces and the Sudanese Liberation Army against the rebel Justice and Equality Movement has caused civilian casualties and thousands of people to flee their homes.

The fighting broke out on January 15. The United Nations says at least 30 people were killed, including women and children, with dozens more wounded.

U.N. human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, says about 30,000 people reportedly have been displaced. He says some 5,000 have sought refuge near an African Union-U.N. mission in Darfur military camp in Muhajeria. He says many others have fled to other places on the outskirts of the town.

"The fighting is reported to have involved both ground offensives and indiscriminate aerial bombardment by government forces that failed to distinguish between civilian communities and military targets," said Colville. "And, on the other side, JEM [Justice and Equality Movement] forces are reported to have deliberately placed themselves in areas heavily populated by civilians, thereby jeopardizing their safety."

The Sudanese Liberation Army has split into several different factions. The group that has been fighting with the JEM over territory is thought to be allied with the government.

Colville says High Commissioner Pillay is appealing to all parties involved in the fighting not to put civilian lives at risk. She says both government and rebel troops are bound by humanitarian law. And, that law, is to take care to protect civilians caught in the fighting.

"We are also extremely concerned at the impact the fighting is having on the already dire humanitarian situation in Muhajeria. Aid agencies have been forced to evacuate their staff from the area out of fears for their safety," she said. "The High Commissioner is also calling on both the government and the two armed groups involved in the fighting to allow access to humanitarian relief, in order to prevent a further deterioration."

On Monday, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon urged all parties to the conflict to immediately stop hostilities. Colville says High Commissioner Pillay is adding her voice to that plea. She says the fighting must stop, and the warring parties need to join the peace process.

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