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Aid Agencies Curtail Operations in Darfur

UNAMID Force Commander, Lieutenant General Patrick Nyamvumba (R), visits the Nertiti UNAMID Camp Site in El-Fasher, west Darfur, to get information about an ambush where three Rwandan peacekeepers were killed, 22 Jun 2010

An increase in attacks against humanitarian workers is forcing aid agencies to curtail efforts in Darfur. According to the United Nations, the deteriorating security situation is making it extremely difficult to operate.

A statement released by the United Nations Thursday expressed concern over increasingly dangerous conditions for humanitarian workers in the Darfur region of Sudan. According to the release, the violence has significantly limited and in some cases shut down humanitarian access to regions in serious need of aid.

The statement comes after a surge in attacks against humanitarian workers in Darfur over the past week.

On Monday, three Rwandan peacekeepers deployed as part of the African-Union security force were killed by rebels in the Jebel Marra region. The soldiers were providing security to a newly built United Nations base in the rebel stronghold when they were attacked by an estimated 20 assailants.

The next day, two employees of the German humanitarian organization Technisches Hilfswerk were kidnapped when unidentified gunmen entered their offices in Nyala, in southern Darfur.

According to the head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Khartoum, Mark Cutts, the recent challenges are part of an ongoing trend.

"We've had difficulties with humanitarian access for a long time. But what we are seeing is, things are deteriorating further and it is making it very, very difficult for humanitarian organizations to operate," he said.

Cutts said the reduction in operations did not reflect a shift in policy but rather a reaction to the situation on the ground. He said the agency was frustrated by its inability to reach affected communities and was working with the government in Khartoum to increase security in the region.

Last month was the deadliest in Darfur since the joint U.N.-African Union mission, UNAMID, began in 2008. Over 600 people were killed in the fighting between rebel groups and government forces.

The increase in violence is due largely to the breakdown in peace talks between the main rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, and the government in early May. The group pulled out of the talks, being held in Doha, after accusing the government of breaking a February cease-fire by carrying out airstrikes in the region.

The war in Darfur broke out in 2003 when the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army accused the government in Khartoum of favoring Arab Darfuris while marginalizing the African population in the region.

The United Nations estimates that 300,000 have been killed and over 2.5 million displaced in the conflict since 2003, leading many organizations worldwide to term it genocide. Sudan puts the death toll at 10,000.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. President Bashir, who denies the charges, is the first sitting head of state to be formally accused of such crimes.