Sudan: Relief Operations in Darfur Still Short of Meeting Needs - MSF

Nairobi — Thousands of displaced civilians from the Darfur region of western Sudan are still short of desperately needed relief assistance despite ongoing aid operations, the international medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said on Monday.

"Relief operations throughout the region fall far short of the massive needs, and as currently designed will not succeed in preventing an entirely man-made famine from wiping out tens of thousands of lives throughout the region," MSF said in a statement.

It quoted a recent survey in the town of Mornay, West Darfur State, where nearly 80,000 people had sought refuge, as showing that some 20 people had died during attacks on 111 villages from September 2003 until February 2004. "Adult men were the primary victims, but women and children were also killed," MSF said.

According to the statement, some 200 people were still dying in the town monthly from various causes. "Today, one in five children in the camp are severely malnourished while irregular and insufficient food distributions do not come close to meeting the basic needs of people weakened by violence, displacement, and deprivation," it said.

Over one million non-Arabs have been displaced within Darfur, predominantly by attacks conducted by Arab Janjawid militias, who are reportedly allied to the government. The government denies involvement in the attacks. Up to 200,000 people are estimated to have fled to neighbouring Chad, while estimates of numbers killed vary from between 15,000 and 30,000.

The US Agency for International Development recently warned that a further 350,000 might die over the coming months from a combination of hunger and disease.

On Sunday, the head of the African Union (AU), Alpha Oumar Konare, flew into Darfur on a two-day assessment of the situation. Sudanese television reported that President Umar Hassan al-Bashir met Konare in Khartoum to discuss the situation. Bashir had earlier ordered security forces to disarm all groups, including the Arab militia blamed for perpetrating atrocities in Darfur, known as the Janjawid.

Diplomats in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, told IRIN that Konare's visit was "a fact-finding mission ahead of the forthcoming AU heads of state summit in early July". A statement issued by the AU said it aimed to "further mobilise" the international community to help resolve the crisis, adding that Konare wanted to "create a propitious environment" to allow humanitarian organisations access to Darfur and support for the people hit by fighting.

On Thursday, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced he was planning to travel to Sudan soon, adding that the UN was pressing the Khartoum government to allow humanitarian workers freer access to Darfur. "We have asked the Sudanese government to take steps to contain the Janjawid militia, who are doing quite a lot of the killing and destruction of the lives of the people in the region," he told reporters in New York.

Last week, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said the US government was considering whether the mass displacements and killings in Darfur constituted genocide. He said the matter was being discussed "inter-agency" and that lawyers and policy officials were looking into it.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide - to which the US is a signatory - defines genocide as acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, [ethnic], racial or religious group". Such acts include killing; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group; and deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of a group in whole or in part.

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