The United Nations says it is concerned about the fate of 7,000 Sudanese civilians, more than a week after they were forced by north Sudan authorities to leave the protection of a U.N. compound in the tense border region with the south.
The global body said Tuesday that the authorities have denied requests to meet with the civilians, who on June 20 are believed to have been taken to Kadugli town in South Kordofan province, about 60 miles north of the provisional border, from a nearby camp.
"There is no certainty on anything for the moment and the mission is asking for access," U.N. spokeswoman Corinne Momal-Vanian told reporters in Geneva. "Naturally the mission is concerned," she added.
Earlier this month, the civilians had featured prominently in U.N. aid agency reports. Agencies described how the civilians sought refuge at the camp because of fighting in Kadugli, and how they were provided with water, food, medical care and mosquito nets for several days.
Then, on June 20, they disappeared. An internal U.N. report obtained by The Associated Press concluded Sudanese intelligence agents — some posing as Red Crescent workers — told the civilians to go to Kadugli for an address by the local governor and to receive humanitarian aid. The refugees were threatened with forced removal from the camp if they did not comply.
U.N. officials in Geneva declined to confirm the report, which was marked "For Internal Use Only." But the U.N.'s top humanitarian official, Valerie Amos, has voiced concerns about the displacement of more than 70,000 people in the province, saying "this includes those who have recently moved from the safety of the UNMIS compound to Kadugli town."
The International Federation of the Red Cross, an umbrella group for national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world, said Tuesday it was investigating the claim that its distinctive red crescent emblem was misused.
"The IFRC is fully aware about these allegations and while it is a matter of concern we can neither deny nor confirm them since we do not have any teams on the ground in Kadugli," said a spokesman, Paul Conneally. "The IFRC, working closely with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society, is currently taking this matter up with the concerned authorities and will report back on the progress of discussions."
The United Nations has been cautious about criticizing the north Sudanese government for fear of inflaming relations with Khartoum, on whose goodwill it depends for humanitarian access to the western region of Darfur and parts of the south. With South Sudan due to formally declare independence from the north on July 9, pockets of fighting have broken out between north Sudanese government forces and elements of the southern military, prompting fears of an escalating humanitarian crisis.
On Monday, the U.N. Security Council authorized a new 4,200-strong peacekeeping force to be deployed in the oil-rich Abyei region, southwest of Kadugli, for six months.
The U.N. has a 10,400-strong peacekeeping force on the north-south border but Khartoum has demanded that U.N. troops leave the north when the mandate expires on July 9. South Sudan, which will become independent on that date, wants a U.N. force on its side of the border and the U.N. is currently putting together a proposed new mission for the south.