Hundreds of people fled a surge of violence in Sudan’s Darfur region, leaving villages abandoned near recent battles between rebels and government troops, international peacekeepers said.
The 8-year conflict in Sudan’s remote west has seen a surge of heavy fighting in recent weeks between the army and rebels boycotting peace talks.
Darfur’s joint United Nations/African Union UNAMID peacekeepers said they had sent a patrol to the site of last week’s clashes around the city of Thabit, 50 km (30 miles) from the mission’s headquarters in the capital of North Darfur El Fasher, Reuters reports.
“Villages outside of Thabit had been abandoned. They (the peacekeeping patrol) saw some destruction,” said UNAMID spokesman Chris Cycmanick.
Most of the villagers had taken shelter in El Fasher and the North Darfur town of Shangil Tobay, said UNAMID in a statement.
A UN source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said hundreds had fled the scene of the fighting.
Aid groups say there have been growing concerns for civilians left stranded in the region in recent months without food and shelter against the cold winter nights.
Humanitarian workers, who regularly ask not to be named for fear of expulsion, say the government has barred access to large parts of the central Jabel Marra area, one of the main remaining rebel strongholds.
“The humanitarian needs have not been met for months. (Access to) Jabel Marra is something we have been working on for almost a year,” said one aid official.
Last week, Washington’s envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, criticised Khartoum for obstructing peacekeepers and said UNAMID needed to take a more aggressive stance in the region.
Violence surged in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels joined forces against Sudan’s government, accusing the Khartoum elite of marginalising the territory that borders Chad.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants against Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to face charges of masterminding genocide and war crimes during a counter-insurgency.