Recent attacks by militias and Sudanese government troops on West Darfur villages in which scores of people were killed and thousands displaced, violated international humanitarian and human rights law, the UN said. Aerial bombardments
"At least 115 people were killed, including elderly and disabled people, women and children," a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), said on 20 March. It followed an investigation into the attacks.
"More than 30,000 individuals were forcibly displaced to other locations, including across the border into neighbouring Chad," the report, which was released following an investigation, noted.
"Civilian homes, NGO [non-governmental organisation] clinics and offices, community centres, water structures, schools, food storages, milling machines and shops were systematically looted, vandalised and in many cases burned to the ground - sometimes with their occupants still inside."
The January and February 2008 attacks on the West Darfur villages of Saraf Jidad, Sirba, Seleia and Abu Sorouj were intended to rout forces of the opposition Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) from the area, according to Sudanese government officials.
The report criticised the JEM for violating an earlier ceasefire agreement: "The activities of JEM prior to the offensive, including a 29 December attack... in Seleia, and its public statements justifying the use of force have been determined separately by the Darfur Ceasefire Commission to be in violation of the 2004 N'Djamena Ceasefire Agreement."
More than 30,000 people were displaced from their homes
The attackers (militias and Sudanese troops) burnt down villages 50-70km north of the state capital, El Geneina. Aerial bombardments by helicopter gunships and fixed-wing aircraft were conducted, along with ground offensives by armed militia on horses and camels, and Sudanese armed forces.
The attacks "violated the principle of distinction stated in international humanitarian law, failing to distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives," the report said.
A national staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was killed during the fighting in Seleia.
Sudanese army spokesman Lt-Col Swarmi Khalid denied the claims, telling UN Radio Miraya the reports were "totally false".
According to the report, the scale of destruction of civilian property, including facilities indispensable for the survival of the civilian population, suggested the damage was a deliberate and integral part of a military strategy.
Describing extensive looting during and after the attacks, the report catalogues "consistent and credible accounts of rape committed by armed uniformed men during and after the attack" on Sirba.
The attacks were only the latest in a series of violent incidents in Darfur where fighting started in 2003 when communities living there took up arms against the government in Khartoum accusing it of marginalising the area.
|The attacks violated the principle of distinction stated in international humanitarian law, failing to distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives|
Aid workers estimate that at least 200,000 lives have been lost while over two million people have been forced to flee their homes across the western Sudanese region. A UNAMID peacekeeping operation has been set up, but progress has been hampered by lack of adequate personnel and logistics.
The attackers have also targeted humanitarian workers and their assets, severely constraining aid operations. According to the UN World Food Programme, five light vehicles, 35 commercial trucks and 23 drivers were hijacked or abducted in Darfur during the first two months of the year.
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