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Rights Groups:  Peacekeepers Not Doing Enough for Darfur Civilians

A report by a group of African human rights agencies says the joint African Union - United Nations peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region is not providing sufficient protection to civilians there. Tendai Maphosa has more from our Bureau in London.

The report by the Darfur Consortium, a coalition of non-governmental human rights groups warns that the international peacekeeping force in Darfur is "in danger of becoming the world's latest broken promise." The report says even though the force known as UNAMID, is severely under-equipped and under-manned, it must do more to protect civilians in the war-torn Sudanese region.

The UNAMID mission took over from a small African Union force last December 31. Only about a third of the total of 27,000 soldiers and police that are supposed to be deployed are currently in place. The result, says Dismas Nkunda of the Darfur Consortium, is that conditions are still as dangerous as before for the people of Darfur.

"The people on the ground, the IDPs, [Internally Displaced People], the local people are saying they have lost faith in that the UNAMID which they were hoping was going to protect them seems as if its failing its work," said Nkunda.

Nkunda tells VOA that women are still afraid to leave the camps for the displaced for fear of being raped. He says hundreds others are being displaced by the fighting on a daily basis.

Nkunda adds that while UNAMID does not have the capacity to respond to large-scale fighting, it must begin to respond forcibly to the daily, smaller attacks on civilians.

He blames the slow deployment of forces and equipment on the indifference of countries that had earlier pledged quick and effective help. Nkunda also blames the U.N., which he says should provide political backing for a timely deployment of forces. However, he reserves the most severe criticism for the Sudanese government.

"More importantly, the Sudanese government has been blocking any attempt to bring in things like equipment through customs delays and all these ones are hampering the process of having a force that would have had hope for the people of Darfur," added Nkunda.

The Darfur conflict has been raging since 2003, sparked by rebel attacks on government installations. The Sudanese government allegedly responded by arming militias that forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict and more than two million are said to be displaced, the majority of them living in camps in Darfur.

The Sudanese government stands accused of massive human rights violations relating to the Darfur conflict, including the arming of local militias that have killed, raped and forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of people. The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in The Hague has just recently asked that the Court issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Hassan Omar al-Bashir for genocide and crimes against humanity. Pre-trial judges are considering the request.

The Sudanese government has repeatedly denied the charges and rejected the Court's jurisdiction.