A growing number of attacks on civilians in Sudan's conflict-torn Darfur region have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes this year — possibly more than 200,000, according to a senior United Nations official.
Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Edmond Mulet on Wednesday told the U.N. Security Council that the second phase of a government military offensive has resulted in the displacement of at least 78,000 people, according to humanitarian organizations.
He said the U.N. humanitarian office has received reports that an additional 130,000 people have been displaced, mainly in the Jebel Marra area of North Darfur where the heaviest fighting has been taking place, but it hasn't yet verified the numbers.
"There is also significant concern about reports of indiscriminate attacks against civilians" and other human rights violations, Mulet said.
U.N. officials and diplomats say the Sudanese government has become increasingly confrontational toward the United Nations and the West over the joint U.N.-African Union mission to Darfur (UNAMID), which Khartoum wants shut.
Darfur has been in turmoil since 2003, when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. Rights groups charge the regime retaliated by unleashing Arab militias on civilians, a claim the government denies.
Sudan's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Hassan Hamid Hassan told the council that the violence and displacements were mainly due to tribal clashes and attacks by rebels, not government forces. He added that the government's operations have brought stability to Darfur.
Khartoum ordered the more than 20,000-strong peacekeeping force out of Darfur late last year, but Mulet made clear that it will not be leaving quickly.
UNAMID has faced allegations by Western powers it has not done enough to protect civilians and withheld information on the scale of violence against civilians and peacekeepers by the Sudanese army and allied militias.
U.N. officials say UNAMID has been working to improve its performance.
UNAMID deputy chief Abiodun Bashua told reporters that the force is currently on such a high-level of alert that any attack or ambush is met with a robust response.
He cited several recent incidents in which UNAMID troops from Tanzania and Pakistan killed a number of attackers.
But he said that Sudanese authorities continue to deny access even though UNAMID's mandate allows the force to go anywhere in Darfur Darfur without permission.
Asked why UNAMID did not simply disregard government attempts to stop it, he said: “'Robust doesn't mean committing suicide.”