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 vast western region, the UN peacekeeping chief said on Wednesday.
Herve Ladsous painted a grim picture to the UN Security Council of the upsurge in fighting between Sudanese government forces and rebels loyal to the Sudan Liberation Army's founder Abdul Wahid Elnur in Darfur's Jebel Marra area, which straddles North, South and Central Darfur states. 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, which is the size of Spain, has been in turmoil since 2003, when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. Local nomadic Arab tribes who formed a government-backed militia calling themselves the Popular Defence Forces - otherwise known as the Janjaweed - have been battling with the rebels since then. The United Nations says at least 300,000 people have died as a result of fighting as well as famine and disease in the conflict, while 2.6 million have fled their homes.
The Sudanese government, however, claims that only 10,000 people have died in the conflict.