United Nations: An escalation in fighting in Darfur has forced 138,000 people to flee their homes since mid-January and there is no end in sight to the 13-year conflict in Sudan's largest region, the UN peacekeeping chief has said.
Herve Ladsous yesterday painted a grim picture to the UN Security Council of the upsurge in fighting in Darfur's Jebel Marra area between Sudanese government forces and rebels loyal to the Sudan Liberation Army's founder Abdul Wahid Elnur.
The government has blocked access to the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force known as UNAMID and humanitarian organisations, so the number of casualties is unknown, he said.
The Security Council briefing follows a report from UN experts monitoring sanctions against Sudan dated mid-December that has been circulated to council members but not released because of Russian objections to some recommendations. The report, obtained by The Associated Press, said armed groups in Darfur are capitalising on gold mined in the region to illicitly raise funds.
Darfur has been in turmoil since 2003, when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination.
Khartoum is accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes known as the the janjaweed and unleashing them on civilian populations- a charge the government denies.
The United Nations says at least 300,000 people have died in the conflict and 2.6 million have fled their homes.
Ladsous, the undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, said the security situation in other parts of Darfur remains "fragile" with persistent conflicts between local tribes over land, water and other resources.
He said the political process remains "polarised" and urged the government and Abdul Wahid to immediately stop fighting in Jebel Marra and start peace negotiations without conditions.
"The pursuit of political objectives through military means over the past decade has only contributed to the prolonged suffering of the civilian population," Ladsous said.
Despite the "volatile security environment," Ladsous said a referendum is scheduled to take place from April 11-13 on whether Darfur should become a single region or retain the current division into five sub-regions.
He cited a controversy over the criteria for voter eligibility and concerns about what some call "the unsuitable timing."