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UN refugee agency withdraws staff from South Darfur over Sudanese restrictions

The Government had promised to lift restrictions – imposed after 20 October when the UN intervened to stop the involuntary relocation of displaced people – by 6 November.But with the limits still in place on Wednesday, Jean-Marie Fakhouri, the director of operations for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sudan, decided that three of the agency’s four international staff would be temporarily relocated to West Darfur State.”It is extremely frustrating for our staff to be forced to sit idle,” Mr. Fakhouri said. “If we are not going to be allowed to do our work in South Darfur, then UNHCR has no choice but to go elsewhere where the needs are just as great.”The UN agency has also put on hold plans to open an office later this month in El Fasher in North Darfur pending a resolution of the situation in South Darfur.The senior UN envoy for Sudan, Jan Pronk, was in Nyala, South Darfur for a second day today attempting a visit to the camp that came under attack yesterday.More than 1.8 million people have been uprooted by the violence in Darfur. Some 1.6 million of them are displaced internally inside Darfur while another 200,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring Chad.In Geneva today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Representative on the human rights of IDPs, called on the Government to immediately halt forced relocations and other serious violations of the rights of displaced persons by its own officials and act to prevent the Janjaweed militia and others from perpetrating these abuses.His statement followed reports yesterday that for the second time in a week, Sudanese authorities have stormed the Al Geer camp in South Darfur to forcibly move people who had sought refuge there. Police allegedly battered civilians and used tear gas against women and children while destroying their shelters.Meanwhile in North Darfur, displaced persons told a UN team in Tartura village that they had recently been forced from their homes in Abu Shouk by police who used tear gas, electrical gadgets and threats to force them onto trucks. A UN spokesman said harassment of IDPs is reportedly increasing at two camps in North Darfur.The Representative, Walter Kälin, pointed out that the forcible relocation of persons is a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law. He noted that while rebels may also be responsible for violations of the ceasefire agreement, “this does not excuse the Government from its responsibilities.”In another development, the five-member International Commission of Inquiry probing the possibility that genocide occurred in Darfur arrived there today following two days of meetings in and around the capital Khartoum. Mr. Kälin hailed this development, but cautioned that “the Government must independently act to prevent its own officials from engaging in forcible relocation and other human rights violations.”He added that the African Union (AU), which has a peacekeeping presence in Darfur, “must be given the mandate to provide protection to civilians as well as adequate numbers of troops, equipment and support, especially if the Government of Sudan does not have the capacity or willingness to do so.” read more

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