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Aid group: Rapes increasing at Darfur camp

More than 200 women have been raped in a refugee camp in Darfur in the past five weeks, a sign of the worsening humanitarian crisis in the violence-wracked Sudanese region, an aid group said Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

More than 200 women have been raped in a refugee camp in Darfur in the past five weeks, a sign of the worsening humanitarian crisis in the violence-wracked Sudanese region, an aid group said Wednesday.

The increased violence came as the U.N. Security Council discussed a draft resolution to replace an understaffed African Union peacekeeping force with a larger, more effective U.N. mission in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed since 2003.

The number of rapes in Kalma camp — one of Darfur’s largest, with about 100,000 refugees — was one measure of the increased violence throughout the region. Another measure was a rising number of people fleeing their homes and of attacks on aid workers, said the International Rescue Committee, which collected the information.

“This is a massive spike in figures. We are used to hearing of two to four incidents of sexual assault per month in Kalma camp,” said Kurt Tjossem of the rescue committee.

The group did not specify who committed the rapes. Refugees in the past have accused pro-government janjaweed militia of harassing them.

Echoes U.N. assessment
The aid group’s statement echoed a report issued by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan a day earlier that said there were thousands of documented cases of women and children abducted for forced labor or forced sex.

“Grave violence against women in Darfur continues to worsen,” Annan said. “Girls have been targeted in interethnic conflicts as a deliberate form of humiliation of a group, and as a means of ethnic cleansing.”

Violence flared three years ago in Darfur when ethnic African tribes revolted against the Arab-led Sudanese government. Khartoum is accused of having unleashed in response a paramilitary group known as the janjaweed that have been blamed for much of the atrocities.

Measuring the violence in the vast, arid Darfur region has long been notoriously difficult, with pro-government armed groups and rebel factions often barring access to international observers, and Khartoum providing scarce information.

More scrutiny of Khartoum
International pressure has been mounting on Khartoum to let a large U.N. mission into the country to resolve the crisis.

On Wednesday, four U.S. congressmen ended a trip to Sudan, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum said. The delegation was led by Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, the embassy said.

The International Rescue Committee statement said more than 50,000 people have been made refugees in recent weeks, joining some two million people previously displaced by the conflict.

Last month alone, nine humanitarian aid workers were killed and 20 vehicles were hijacked in Darfur, the New York-based IRC also said.

The U.N. and several aid organizations have also warned that a peace agreement signed in May between the Sudanese government and the main Darfur rebel group only led to more violence and a worsening of the humanitarian crisis.

Rebel infighting
Although several militias and paramilitary forces operate in the region, most of the recent clashes are blamed on infighting among rebel factions who disagree over the peace deal.

Dissident rebels are also suspected in the killing of two African Union peacekeepers earlier this month.

The financially strapped African Union has requested the transfer of its mission to the U.N., saying it is not able to do long-term peacekeeping. But Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir remains staunchly opposed and has warned that Sudan’s army would fight any U.N. forces sent to Darfur.

The draft U.N. resolution plans to replace the 7,000-strong African Union force with some 22,000 U.N. troops.

Sudan wants African Union troops to remain in Darfur and be beefed up with the money that would be spent on a U.N. force.

The African Union’s mandate runs out Sept. 30, and the organization’s officials have warned the mission could then have to leave Darfur if the international community does not provide more support.