Sudan forces Darfur refugees from safety of camps to be killed by Arab militiamen

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The Independent Online

As Darfur slides further into the abyss, the Sudanese government has been accused of sending refugees back into the hands of the murderous Janjaweed militia.

As Darfur slides further into the abyss, the Sudanese government has been accused of sending refugees back into the hands of the murderous Janjaweed militia.

The Independent on Sunday has been given accounts of returnees being killed by gunmen - sometimes, it is claimed, in collusion with security forces. There is also evidence that the police have attacked village chiefs who have refused to lead their communities back home from refugee camps. Refugees also claim that official agencies that have a part in distributing international aid are cutting back on rations in an effort to get inmates to leave the camps.

The Sudanese authorities deny the allegations. They maintain that they have once again made large swaths of the region safe after the orgy of murder, mutilation, burning and rape. They say the vast refugee camps across Darfur have become breeding grounds for epidemics of cholera, typhoid and hepatitis, and must be dispersed.

The international relief agencies say they fully accept the seriousness of the crisis, but are adamantly opposed to the displaced being sent back under any kind of coercion.

The refugees claim that men saying they are from Islamic charities, Arabs and Pakistanis, have been circulating in the camps, distributing money in an effort to get people to leave. There have been few takers. The camp inmates insist that the "police'' supposedly providing safety are members of the Janjaweed who terrorised them in the first place, now wearing official uniforms. They claim government forces encourage and have even taken part in renewed attacks.

The military and the Arab Janjaweed militia are purportedly fighting the rebel African Sudan Liberation Army, but the war is also waged indiscriminately and with extreme violence against African civilians. The conflict has so far claimed 30,000 lives and driven a million people from their homes in what the United Nations has described as the "world's worst humanitarian crisis".

Mirwais, 35 miles from the provincial capital of Nayala in south Darfur, came under attack last Thursday evening - the second time in five months. Men and women, the elderly and the very young, made their way to Kalma camp, 10 miles outside Nayala. Carrying his 16-month-old daughter in his arms, Suleiman Adem Hassan, 36, said: "I lost my brother and a dear friend last time. We went back because we were persuaded it was all right. My parents did not believe it and stayed on in Nayala, but I went home with my wife and children. It was a mistake.

"They came very early in the morning. There were men on horses, but also small trucks with machine-guns, and soldiers in uniforms. There were three helicopters in the sky, which had attacked another village nearby. The Janjaweed do not have helicopters. I don't know how many people were killed. They were burning everything, and there was shooting. We just ran with the children. We have lost everything, but at least we are alive."

There had been outbreaks of violence in Kalma over attempts to get the refugees to leave. In the latest clash, last week, 42 people were arrested and one village sheikh, Abdullah Bashir Sabir, was severely injured. The authorities say he was attacked after he tried to get people from his village to go back. But, according to people in the camp he was shot because he refused to comply with the authorities' demands to take them home. His wife, Halima, said: "They shot him in the leg because he would not agree. There was a meeting, and a lot of shouting, and they opened fire. What is the point of taking money to go? The Janjaweed will only steal it. We cannot go back: it is not safe, we will be killed."

Meanwhile there are the beginnings of epidemics at refugee camps bursting at the seams, such as Kalma. No one is quite sure how many people have taken refuge here. The UN says it is 76,000, the Sudanese government claims 100,000, while the aid agencies put the figure at 60,000. There is agreement, however, that two weeks ago the figure was only 26,000. The refugees are joined daily by others fleeing the violence. The latest news was of 30,000 gathered at Mahahajariyah in the south, fleeing in this direction, after an offensive by government troops and the Janjaweed. The pattern is repeated elsewhere. To the north-west, a camp at Kass has 45,000. Slightly further away Mershing now has 27,000 and Duma and Merwash between them more than 11,000.

After the discovery of cases of cholera in Kalma camp, the aid agencies have begun vaccination programmes. There is a huge rise in cases of malnutrition, especially among the young, caused partly by diarrhoea and partly by a shortage of food.

The UN has launched an appeal for $350m (£190m), which will fund relief until the end of the year. Only $188m has been raised so far.

The rains are almost a month late. This would normally be a source of concern in this part of the world, but the delayprovides a little extra time before further disaster. When they do come - very soon, according to forecasts - many camps will become swamps of human and animal excrement. The dirt roads used by relief convoys will be almost impassable.

At Kalma, Amina Khalid cradles her painfully thin two-year-old boy, Ismail. "He is losing weight; he is sick all the time. I am afraid of what will happen. The aid people are good, the doctors are good. I am just praying and praying."

Oxfam is involved in major sanitation work at Kalma. The charity's Adrian McIntyre said: "Our policy is quite simple: internally displaced people should not be sent back to areas that are not safe. We are also facing huge problems with the danger of diseases breaking out in the camps. It is perhaps not clear to the outside world the sheer scale of what could happen."