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UN Reports Abuse in West Darfur

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is urging the Government of Sudan to take immediate action to protect thousands of civilians in the village of Bir Dagig, located about 30 kilometers north of El Geneina in West Darfur. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva the United Nations says the village residents have been subjected to abuse and intimidation for several months.

The U.N. Human Rights Office says a local conflict early this year has accelerated and the situation for the residents of Bir Dagig has markedly deteriorated in recent weeks.

The agency says the problem in the area was sparked by accusations from a neighboring Arab community that the villagers had stolen their livestock. The residents of Bir Dagig deny these charges.

U.N. Human Rights spokesman, Jose Dias, says armed men in military uniform reportedly have committed a number of human rights abuses since July 1. Although, he says villagers complain that the abuse, particularly against women and girls, has been going on since January.

"Men coming from or on behalf of this neighboring Arab community, they are said to be in uniforms and armed and to be coming or transported on camels and horseback," he noted. "As for the abuses that are said to have been committed-specifically, there have been beatings. There have been abductions of men from the village, men and women from the village. Also, gender-based violence. Sexual abuse."

Dias says the Sudanese government initially sent extra police to the village. But, then withdrew them completely in April. He says there are no police officers in the village now.

He says the government also promised to investigate the alleged livestock theft and the human rights abuses. He says this too has not been done, and the human rights abuses and intimidation persist.

Dias says UN human rights officials have visited Bir Dagig on two occasions. During the first visit on July 1, he says the monitors documented a number of cases of abuse.

"On the 18th of July, our colleagues were on the ground in Bir Dagig, but had to withdraw due to insecurity," he recalled. "In effect, they witnessed the arrival of armed men who surrounded the village center and demanded money in compensation for the alleged theft of the livestock. The community, as you can imagine, does not have the funds to pay this compensation."

Dias says around 4,500 people live in the village. Many of the people have fled from the conflict in Darfur and are poor and homeless.

He says the community is being held to ransom. It reportedly has agreed to pay $15,000 in compensation after the armed men threatened future attacks. He says the United Nations is worried about further violence if the residents do not come up with the money.