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Sudan: New Darfur Attacks Show Civilians Still at Risk

Fighting Underscores Lack of Protection for Civilians


Sudanese forces and
government-backed militias attacked more than a dozen villages in
operations against rebel forces near Muhajariya, South Darfur, between
October 5 and 17, 2008, Human Rights Watch said today. The fighting, in
which more than 40 civilians were killed, shows that the United
Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) still lacks the
capacity to protect vulnerable civilians.

During the same period,
President Omar al-Bashir told the media that life was "very normal in
Darfur," and announced a new peace initiative with much fanfare in
North Darfur.

"Once again, civilians are bearing the brunt of fighting
in Darfur, and the peacekeepers cannot protect them," said Georgette
Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Life in Darfur is far
from 'normal.'"

According to local sources, government-backed "Janjaweed"
militias attacked more than 13 villages and settlements around
Muhajariya, 80 kilometers east of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur,
killing more than 40 civilians, burning homes, and stealing livestock.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that armed Janjaweed on horses and
camels surrounded villages and were followed by government forces in
vehicles mounted with weapons.

Muhajariya has long been a stronghold for the Minni Minawi faction of the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and has been attacked many times over the course of the Darfur conflict.

Rights Watch has not been able to determine whether government forces
clashed with rebels during these attacks. On October 5 and 7,
government forces and Janjaweed attacked Sineit village, 16 kilometers
southeast of Muhajariya, killing nine civilians. On October 6,
Janjaweed attacked Brangal village, 12 kilometers northeast of
Muhajariya, resulting in seven civilian deaths. On October 8, they
attacked Kilekile and villages in the Mijelit area, northwest of
Sineit, resulting in an unconfirmed number of deaths. Rebels from Unity
faction of the SLA reported that they clashed with government and
Janjaweed forces only after the initial attacks, between October 13 and

As a result of the attacks, thousands of villagers fled to
the towns of Muhajariya and Shearia, and have yet to return home.
Reliable sources reported more than 40 casualties from the attacks and
fighting. However, the full extent and circumstances of civilian
casualties remain largely unknown. After gunmen shot at a UNAMID convoy
on October 14, UNAMID forces have not tried to enter the area. In
recent months, UNAMID has increasingly become the target of attacks and
banditry, including in South Darfur. The mission has deployed less than
half of the 26,000 military and police mandated by UN Security Council
Resolution on July 31, 2007, and is still missing critical equipment,
including attack helicopters.

On July 14, the prosecutor of the International Criminal
Court requested an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir for war
crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. Since then,
Sudan has repeatedly tried to persuade other countries that the
security situation on the ground in Darfur is improving, with the aim
of securing a suspension of the case against al-Bashir by the UN
Security Council.

"President Bashir's claims about the situation in Darfur
should convince no one," said Gagnon. "But whether or not the fighting
continues, the victims of past atrocities deserve to see those
responsible prosecuted."

Human Rights Watch called on UNAMID to conduct a prompt
and thorough investigation into the Muhajariya attacks and urged all
parties to the conflict to take all feasible measures to avoid loss of
civilian life and property and to ensure that the civilian population
has access to humanitarian assistance.

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.