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Darfur: ICRC president demands improved security

23-02-2007 Press Briefing

On his return from a visit to Sudan, the ICRC's president, Jakob Kellenberger, has urged all parties to the conflict in Darfur to ensure respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) and to restore the security environment both for civilians and for the staff of humanitarian organizations there to help them.

   
  ©ICRC/B. Heger/sd-e-00786    
 
  Temporary shelters at the camp for displaced persons in Gereida.    
   
   
  ©ICRC/B.Heger/sd-e-00647    
 
  The camp for displaced persons in Gereida. A makeshift family shelter.    
   
   
  ©ICRC/B.Heger/sd-e-00578    
 
  People queueing for water in the displaced persons' camp in Gereida.    
   
   
  ©ICRC/B.Heger/sd-e-00743    
 
  Gereida, camp for the internally displaced. A child suffering from malnutrition receives care at the ICRC field hospital.    
      

During his five-day visit, President Kellenberger met with representatives of the Sudanese government, Mini Minawi's faction of the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) as well as armed groups that did not sign the Darfur Peace Agreement in May 2006.

At a press conference at the ICRC's Geneva headquarters on 23 February, President Kellenberger said that he had told all parties that they must respect international humanitarian law and ensure the maintenance of law and order in areas under their control.

There was as yet little sign of a solid political solution, he added, and the fragmentation of armed groups is complicating an already dangerous context.

He said the ICRC continues to monitor violations of IHL and to bring them to the attention of the authorities concerned according to the organization's normal working modalities. However, increasing levels of criminality and banditry are also causing major problems for humanitarian organizations striving to bring aid to civilians affected by the violence.

The ICRC is the main international humanitarian organization working outside urban centres and IDP camps in Darfur, alongside a few other organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The ICRC provides aid to more than half a million people in villages and among nomadic communities.

The ICRC has expressed growing concern about the security situation in Darfur since a clear and sharp deterioration throughout 2006. In the most serious incident, an ICRC staff member was abducted and killed in the Jebel Marra region last August. This led to a temporary suspension of activities in that area of northern Darfur where there is widespread fighting.

In December, a shocking security incident in a camp for displaced persons in Gereida forced the withdrawal of all other humanitarian organizations. The ICRC has therefore been obliged to resume a wider range of assistance activities in the camp to supply its population of some 120,000 people, including 18,500 children under five years old, with food, water and health care.

Nutrition activities are also continuing through a joint project with the British and Australian Red Cross Societies.

Staff numbers in Gereida are being reinforced in line with the increased level of responsibilities in the camp in order to ensure that the ICRC's strategy of focusing its activities on isolated rural communities continues to be implemented to prevent further displacement.

President Kellenberger said there was no hope at the moment for the displaced in Gereida to return home as the security environment in their areas of origin remained too dangerous.

Although there is a broad acceptance by all parties to the conflict of the ICRC's presence in Darfur as a neutral and independent organization, this does not, however, always protect its staff from attack and President Kellenberger emphasised the need for the respect of the ICRC's mission.

" There is a lot of talk about peace processes, but I wanted to make clear to all parties to the conflict that international humanitarian law has to be respected in times of armed conflict, whether a political solution is found or not. I also expect all of them to take serious and concrete measures to ensure the security of humanitarian staff. "

President Kellenberger underlined the ICRC's commitment to the people of Darfur and said that in Gereida, at least, he feared the organization might have to work alone for some time to come.

He estimated that the organization would need up to an additional 30 million Swiss francs for the current year if it was to meet the needs of the displaced in Gereida.

The ICRC now has around 1,960 staff in Sudan, including 160 expatriates. It is the organization's largest operation worldwide.

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