South Darfur fighting must cease for sake of suffering civilians – UN rights chief

The United Nations’ top human rights advocate has voiced her alarm at reports of the worsening conditions for civilians in the South Darfur town of Muhajeria, where fighting between Sudanese government forces and rebels has led to at least 30 deaths and uprooted some 30 000 people.
“I`m extremely concerned at the impact the fighting is having on the already dire humanitarian situation in Muhajeria,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
The fighting which broke out on 15 January in the area between government forces and the Sudanese Liberation Army/Mini Minawi faction (SLA/MM) against the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has exposed tens of thousands of civilians to violence, destroyed an aid agency`s office and forced the UN to relocate its staff, the UN News Centre says.
Pillay, a former South African High Court judge called on the government and both the armed groups involved to allow access to humanitarian relief, in order to prevent a further deterioration of the situation in Muhajeria.
The violence has led to at least 30 deaths, including women and children, with dozens more wounded, according to a news release from the High Commissioner`s Office. Of the 30 000 people uprooted by the fighting, about 5000 have sought refuge in the vicinity of an African Union-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) military camp in Muhajeria, while many others have fled to other destinations on the outskirts of the town.
UNAMID reported that aerial bombings were conducted this morning around Muhajeria, and civilians are still gathered outside the mission`s camp seeking refuge. UNAMID officials were prevented by Sudanese national security from undertaking an assessment visit to Muhajeria, due to the current security situation in the area, the mission added.
Briefing the Security Council today, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet stressed it is critical that the Government ensures access for UNAMID personnel.
Pillay reminded all parties that international humanitarian law is binding on both State and non-State actors, including armed groups, and called on them to respect their obligations, particularly with regard to the protection of civilians.
“The fighting is reported to have involved ground offensives and indiscriminate aerial bombardment by government forces that failed to distinguish between civilian communities and military targets,” Ms. Pillay said. “JEM forces are also reported to have deliberately placed themselves in areas heavily populated by civilians, thereby jeopardizing their safety.”
The High Commissioner added her voice to the call made by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement issued on Sunday, urging all parties to the conflict to agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities. “The fighting must stop, and the warring parties need to join the peace process,” she stressed.
Ban said he is “gravely concerned” at the situation.
“The Secretary-General calls on the government of Sudan and the JEM to cease all military activities in South Darfur,” the statement added.
He reiterated that UNAMID “will continue to do its utmost to protect civilians in these difficult circumstances” and reminds the parties of their fundamental responsibility to work with the mission to ensure that civilians are protected from harm.
Other parts of Darfur – where a six-year conflict between rebels and the Government and allied Janjaweed militiamen has led to an estimated 300,000 deaths and forced 2.7 million people to flee their homes – also remain tense following clashes between Government forces and other rebel movements.