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ICRC: Armed Conflict Takes Heavy Toll on Civilians


In its annual report for 2005, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) paints a grim picture of the impact of armed conflict and violence on civilians on all five continents. Last year, the ICRC spent more than $650 million on humanitarian operations in 80 countries and territories.

The International Red Cross says civilians caught in armed conflict face death, injury, displacement, rape and sexual harassment. It says they face forced labor and recruitment, detention, and the destruction of their property and means of livelihood.

ICRC President, Jakob Kellenberger, says there were some favorable developments and a reduction in the level of violence in some conflict areas last year. But he says there is growing concern, particularly in Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur, in southern and central Somalia, northern Uganda and parts of Iraq.

"When you look at Darfur, for example, since the beginning of this year, it is clear that the security environment has become more difficult even for us," he said. " We have much more security incidents than we had in the two years before. I think we have still a uniquely wide access to rural areas, but, even for us in Darfur at present, there are some areas just now where we do not have access. Just now, the humanitarian situation is extremely difficult and critical and the security situation too."

Sudan remains the ICRC's single largest operation worldwide. About 1,000 Red Cross workers are providing protection and assistance to people most at risk in remote rural areas of Darfur.

Last year's 10 largest operations also include three other African countries.

In 2005 the ICRC's largest operations were in Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories, Indonesia, the Moscow region, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia.

Kellenberger says the top 10 list remains essentially the same this year, but includes Somalia. He says the upsurge of violence on top of a terrible drought is having a crushing effect upon the population.

"Since February, more than 1,700 war wounded have arrived there and only in the month of May 1,000. So, it is in terms of victims of direct violence it is certainly one of the, if not, the worst conflicts right now," he added.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is one of the only humanitarian organizations working in Iraq. Because of the security situation, Kellenberger says the organizations has had to limit its operations.