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19th January, 2004

Today reporter Mike Thomson (left) has been to Sudan to report on the increasing tensions between Government forces and Rebel groups in the western province of Darfur.

See pictures taken by Mike during his investigation, a map of his journey through Sudan and listen to his first and second and third reports.


Four years after the killing started in Darfur things here are worse rather than better. Three quarters of this region is now too dangerous for aid agencies to reach. A translator visiting a refugee camp recently was torn limb by limb and several aid workers have been shot dead.

The number of people forced to live in refugee camps has reached nearly two and a half million. A further two million more remain in their villages which are prone to frequent raids by bandits and armed militia gangs. The camps are not much safer. Those leaving them to fetch water or firewood face being attacked and men with guns roam many of the settlements at night. Robberies, car-jackings and rapes happen almost daily, sometimes in the centre of Darfur’s main towns.

Abu Shouk camp - North DarfurThere is little in the way of effective protection. Sudanese government troops can be seen in large numbers here but many displaced people claim these same uniformed men joined Arab militias in attacking their villagers. Others have been used by the government to forcibly remove displaced people from a camp near Nyala in Southern Darfur. A 7,000 strong African Union peacekeeping force is seen as little better. One camp inmate told me “They can’t even protect themselves, never mind us.” The AU’s mandate allows it’s soldiers to do little more than watch rather than act and many lack suitable training and equipment.

African Union soldier, El Fasher, North DarfurSome see the imminent arrival of a combined 26,000 strong United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force as the best hope for the future. It’s mandate is stronger than that of the existing African Union contingent and it is nearly four times the size. The problem is that even this number of troops will find it difficult to cover an area the size of France. To make matters worse it’s request for a fleet of attack helicopters, which are vital for this kind of conflict, has been completely ignored so far by the International Community. Plus the Sudanese government, which refused to accept the force for many months, has yet to confirm that it is happy with the composition of this one. Then there is the continuing delay in getting the full force on the ground. This was supposed to happen at the beginning of January but the joint force’s second in command has told me that this may now not happen until 2008.

Children at Abu Shouk camp, Northern DarfurIt has long been argued that the solutions to Darfur’s troubles are political rather than military. High hopes rested on the start of peace talks in Libya last month but gloom has since replaced optomism. Most of the main rebels leaders failed to turn up for the conference and the talks, due to continue in December, may not resume now until early next year.

One young mother in a camp near El Fasher in Northern Darfur summed up the concerns of many when she told me: “I can’t see peace coming soon, if ever. I may spend the rest of my life in this camp.” Let us all hope she is wrong. 

Mike Thomson, El Fashir, North Darfur

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