Civilians killed and displaced in Darfur clashes

Thousands of civilians have fled West Darfur’s Sirba region and an unknown number were killed as the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) moved to re-occupy the area, accompanied by uniformed Janjawid militias on horses. The latest figures indicate that 12,000 people have crossed into Chad, thousands more have gone south to Jeneina and many, especially women and children, are believed to still be sheltering in the bush. Those remaining in the area are vulnerable to attack by militias and others. It is still not known how many civilians died in the attacks. However, around 100 were said to have been killed in the three main villages in the area, Sirba, Abu Suruj and Silea, which were attacked on Friday (8 February). The attacks on the area, which was occupied by Sudan’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), were supported by military aeroplanes from the SAF, described as being two MIG, two Antonov and four helicopters. The attacks started at 10am on Friday and were continuing at sunset. The SAF now occupies the area. The JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim has said that African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) forces may enter the area, but not stay. He has warned that his forces will attack them if they stay. A spokesperson for Amnesty international has said that the organisation is outraged at his remarks. “JEM should immediately and publicly withdraw their statement and undertake not to attack, or impede the work of, UNAMID forces,” said Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Programme Director of the Amnesty International’s Africa Programme. Amnesty International has also received information that leads it to understand that the SAF may move to the Jebel Moon area, a JEM stronghold. The number of civilians in the Sirba and Abu Suruj area has grown due to an influx of internally displaced people who fled there after earlier attacks elsewhere. As well as the population of the area, about 130,000 internally displaced people, who have not been reached by any food distribution since December, have been sheltering in the area. Amnesty International spoke by phone to a person from the region, who said “The displaced are in desperate need of aid.” The World Food Programme (WFP) sent a rapid assessment mission to Sirba on Monday, with hopes that food can be distributed to those who need it over the next days. The civilians in the area blame not only SAF and Janjawid, who failed to discriminate between military and civilians, but also JEM, who occupied the area and first used it to threaten attacks on West Darfur’s capital Jeneina. JEM then used the area as a launching pad to move into Chad in order to support the Chadian government. “The Sudanese government and Chadian armed groups they support and the Chadian government and the Justice and Equality Movement, which they support, systematically ignore the need to respect the life, wellbeing and safety of civilians,” said Tawanda Hondora. This attack is a major test for UNAMID, which took over from the African Union Mission in Sudan on 31 December 2007 with a mandate to protect civilians in Darfur. UNAMID moved to investigate the killings and mass forced displacements on Monday.