Amidst reports of civilian displacement in the wake of air strikes in the Sudanese state of North Darfur, the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in the region today warned that continued fighting could lead to a "catastrophic humanitarian situation" for the displaced civilians.
"The mission reiterates that air strikes and armed clashes invariably result in casualties and fatalities among combatants and in dire consequences for the civilian population, with loss of life, destruction of property, and massive displacement, compounding an already critical humanitarian situation," the peacekeeping operation, known by the acronym UNAMID, stated in a news release.
UNAMID said it had received reports of civilians being displaced following alleged air strikes by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and attacks by armed groups around the towns of Shangil Tobaya and Tawila of North Darfur.
On 19 December, the mission deployed a 'blue helmet' patrol to Dalma and Dady villages to verify the reports of air strikes in the area - but the peacekeepers were denied access by the SAF at Shangil Tobaya.
"UNAMID calls on all parties involved to keep civilians out of harm's way and to grant the Mission unrestricted access and freedom of movement across Darfur," the Mission said, adding that it also "warns that continued fighting could lead to a catastrophic humanitarian situation for the displaced civilians in North Darfur."
Two days earlier, UNAMID received reports of an increasing number of civilians - from the villages of Daly, Kotto, Msaleet, Nomaira, Dawa Sharafa, Dolma and Hemaida in the wider Shangil Tobaya area - who had fled to the Nifasha camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) as a result of alleged attacks by armed groups and SAF air strikes in the area the previous week.
According to the same sources, UNAMID continued, a clash between the SAF and an unidentified armed group at Tibadiyat village, located approximately 20 kilometres south-east of Shangil Tobaya, had resulted in the death of one combatant and the wounding of two civilians. In addition, allegations of rape and looting by the armed groups were reported.
The peacekeeping operation has also received reports of civilians from the villages of Kunjura, Hashaba, Namira and Masal fleeing to the Argo IDP camp in the Tawila area, on 18 December, as a result of air strikes allegedly carried out by the SAF, as well as an armed group's raid that same day. UNAMID is arranging for further verification of these incidents.
"While the scope of displacement is to be determined and allegations of air strikes are yet to be verified, the Mission is nevertheless concerned about the safety of civilians and the humanitarian situation in these IDP camps," UNAMID stated.
"The arrival of newly displaced persons puts additional pressure on the resources and services available inside IDP camps, especially in light of limited access to water, health, medical and education facilities," the mission added. "It also leads to the deterioration of the overall humanitarian situation within the camps."
UNAMID noted that it continues to offer its logistical and security support to humanitarian groups in Darfur to facilitate the response to the identified humanitarian needs.
Established in July 2007, UNAMID has the protection of civilians as its core mandate. In addition, the peacekeeping operation is tasked with other responsibilities, such as facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid and assisting with an inclusive peace process in Darfur, where fighting broke out nine years ago, pitting Government forces and allied militiamen against rebel groups.