Gunmen have stepped up attacks on aid workers and food convoys in Sudan’s Darfur region, disrupting relief aid to millions of people, according to agencies.
Incidents include the harassment of humanitarian workers, abductions and commandeering of vehicles.
The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) said humanitarian staff from UN agencies and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had difficulty distributing food in Darfur because of the attacks.
“Carjacking and robbery of UN and NGO convoys have increased in the week from 17 to 23 July, with a total of three carjackings and eight attacks on convoys,” UNMIS spokesperson, Radhia Achouri said.
“The number of humanitarian vehicles hijacked this year has reached 76 and the number of convoys attacked and looted is 77,” Achouri added.
“Humanitarian workers have been temporarily relocated on 20 occasions so far this year, which impacts negatively on the delivery of humanitarian assistance in some areas,” the UNMIS spokeswoman said.
The World Food Program (WFP) reported 18 attacks on its food convoys and four carjacking incidents this year. Six vehicles have also been stolen and 10 staffers, including contractors, either detained or abducted, the agency said.
“WFP staff and contractors are being stopped at gunpoint, dragged out of their vehicles and robbed with alarming frequency,” said Kenro Oshidari, WFP Sudan representative, on 25 July.
“These abhorrent attacks, which target the very people who are trying to help the most vulnerable in Darfur, must be brought under control,” Oshidari urged.
WFP said worsening security in parts of Darfur rendered it impossible to reach 170,000 people in June, and attacks on food convoys made the town of Kass in South Darfur inaccessible.
Aid workers are supporting calls for peace talks between rebel factions and the government to end the bloodshed in the region.
On 24 July, the UN Darfur envoy Jan Eliasson and his AU counterpart Salim Ahmed Salim said they had sent out invitations to rebel leaders to attend talks in Arusha, Tanzania, aimed at jump-starting peace negotiations with the government.
They did not say which rebel groups had been invited to the meeting on 3-5 August, except that invitations had gone out to “leading personalities of the non-signatory movements”.
Eliasson and Salim said in a statement that the objective of the Arusha meeting was “to take stock of the progress made in the road-map and for the special envoys to consult with the movements on the preparations for the up-coming final negotiations”.
They added: “Discussions will focus on the key role to be played by the Sudanese parties concerned in ensuring a speedy, negotiated and sustainable settlement of the Darfur conflict, including the format and venue of and participation in the negotiations.”