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Oxfam pulls out of Gereida, government accepts hybrid force for Darfur

[Sudan] Armed men from the Sudan Liberation Movement Army (SLM/A) in Gereida town, south Darfur, Sudan, 24 February 2006. Despite a May peace deal, the UN says violence and displacement have increased in the region. Derk Segaar/IRIN

Oxfam has decided to permanently close down its humanitarian operation in the town of Gereida in Sudan's western region of Darfur, citing reluctance by authorities there to improve security and stop attacks on aid workers.

Oxfam's announcement on 17 June came as a United Nations Security Council delegation visited the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, where it received the government's reaffirmation of its unconditional agreement to the deployment of a hybrid African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Oxfam had in December 2006 suspended its operations in Gereida - where 130,000 internally displaced people are sheltered in camps after fleeing from violence - after an attack by an armed group on the compounds of Oxfam and the charity Action Against Hunger.

"The humanitarian need in Gereida [South Darfur] remains enormous, and we have been extremely keen to return," said Caroline Nursey, Oxfam's Sudan Programme Manager.

"Since the attack, we have repeatedly stressed our desire to return to the town. But the local authorities have not lived up to their responsibility to ensure our staff can work safely. Despite our repeated requests, none of the perpetrators has been held to account, none of the assets stolen in the attack has been returned, and we have not received credible assurances that similar attacks would not take place if we did return," she said in a statement.

Oxfam criticised Minni Minnawi's faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, which controls Gereida, for failing to deal with insecurity.

The UN Security Council delegation, led by South Africa's permanent representative to the UN Dumisani Kumalo and his British colleague Emyr Jones Parry, said they had received assurances from the government that it was fully committed to the deployment of the hybrid force.

"I can tell you that the foreign minister [of Sudan] told us in no uncertain terms that the government of Sudan accepted the hybrid force without any conditionality. The president himself just confirmed the same thing to us," Kumalo told journalists in Khartoum.

''Despite our repeated requests, none of the perpetrators has been held to account, none of the assets stolen in the attack has been returned''
Sudan's acceptance of the hybrid was first announced at the end of a meeting at the African Union headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on 12 June, where two options were outlined regarding the size of the proposed force's military component: plan one would have 19,555 troops deployed, while option two would see 17,605 troops sent in. The police component would require 3,772 officers.

"The force commander is jointly appointed and is an African. There is a unity of command and, as [foreign minister Lam Akol] said, the command and control processes will be those of the United Nations," said Jones Parry.

Oxfam said it had reached an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross to take over maintenance of water and sanitation services in Gereida on a long-term basis. Oxfam's health education and livelihoods support project, will, however, cease at the end of August, the agency added.
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