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UN Official: Access in Darfur Vital to Rape Investigation

FILE - Yasir Ahmed Mohamed, seated at right, special prosecutor for crimes in Darfur, and his team talk to women during an investigation into allegations of mass rape in Thabit, Nov. 20, 2014.

A senior U.N. official said Thursday that further investigation was required into an allegation of mass rape in Sudan’s north Darfur region last month.

U.N. Peacekeeping Chief Hervé Ladsous told the Security Council that due in part to the heavy presence of Sudanese soldiers and police during a fact-finding mission’s visit to Thabit on Nov. 9, further investigation was necessary to verify allegations that 200 women and girls were raped there by Sudanese troops the last two days of October.

“I would underscore that only an independent investigation by UNAMID will address the concerns over these serious allegations and therefore urge the government of Sudan to grant UNAMID immediate and independent access to Thabit and its population so that these reports can be verified,” Ladsous said through an interpreter.

UNAMID is the acronym for the joint U.N.-African Union Mission in Darfur.

The report of the mass rape was made on Radio Dabanga, a Netherlands-based station that broadcasts to Darfur. The allegations were attributed to a village elder. The Sudanese government denied UNAMID access to the village for more than a week before allowing a team in on Nov. 9.

Subsequent requests that a small team be allowed to return to Thabit have not been granted.

Sudan’s U.N. ambassador, Rahamtalla Mohamed Osman Alnor, told the council that the government did not interfere with the UNAMID team that visited Thabit on Nov. 9. If the team did not like the conditions for the investigation, he said, it should have left instead of going ahead with the interviews. He dismissed the rape allegations as false and propagated by an opposition radio station.

“Is it conceivable that 200 women and girls could have been raped in a village without anybody avenging the honor of their daughter or wife, or without anyone reporting the incident?” he said.

The peacekeeping mission’s relationship with Khartoum has been fraught with difficulties, including attacks on peacekeepers and constraints on members' movements in Darfur. In the latest development, the government last week demanded two UNAMID human rights experts immediately leave their Khartoum office. Ladsous told the council that the experts had no choice other than to comply, but that the action was unacceptable.

He also noted that Khartoum has publicly called for UNAMID’s “exit.” It is not a matter of UNAMID leaving tomorrow, he said; an exit strategy must be agreed to.

The Darfur mission has nearly 16,000 soldiers and police and costs $1 billion a year to run, but it has been widely criticized for years for not being more effective.

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