Sudan puts pressure on charity after lynching of worker

Posted in Other | 18-Aug-04 | Author: Kim Sengupta| Source: The Independent

Displaced Sudanese people stand outside their shelter in this August 2004 photo in the Kalma camp just outside Nyala in Darfur, Sudan.

The savage lynching of an aid worker in a refugee camp has become a political football in Darfur's ethnic conflict that now threatens some of the humanitarian operations.

Medibor Ahmed Mohammed, an Arab employed by the charity Care, was mutilated and murdered at Kalma camp by a mob of Africans who accused him of belonging to the Janjaweed militias, which have been killing and terrorising African civilians.

The Sudanese authorities have told Care to suspend operations temporarily, several of the organisation's employees have been arrested and others have been threatened with death.

Mr Mohammed's family told The Independent that they want compensation from Care. They, and fellow Arab refugees at Mussei camp, blame the agency for taking Arabs to a hostile African camp. But one of his brothers, Hamid Mahmood, said: "Our problem is with Care, and that can be settled. We have nothing against the other international charities; we all feel they should be allowed to continue with their work.''

Senior government figures have flown from Khartoum to "investigate" the murder and it has had widespread coverage in the Sudanese media, with comments about the irresponsibility of international organisations. Privately, the agencies say this is an attempt by the government to intimidate them and try to gain greater control over the distribution of aid.

The Sudanese government has an official policy of dispersing the refugees. Officials claim the villages from where they have fled have been made safe. But refugees who do return home say they have been sent back to the Janjaweed. The aid agencies, and the United Nations, have so far opposed the Sudanese attempts to break up the camps. There have also been disagreements between them and the government-run Humanitarian Aid Commission over distribution of relief.

The attack at Kalma has had widespread repercussions. Several agencies say they feel threatened and they have curtailed their activities. UN and agency staff have been placed under a 9pm curfew. A UN security team, flown in from New York, is assessing whether it is safe to return to certain areas.

The police and security forces shut off Kalma for three days after the murder. On Sunday, they entered the camp and arrested 270 people. In the process, the inhabitants say, the forces assaulted several people and stole property and money.

There appears to have been much gratuitous damage. Sacks of food and supplies were cut open and strewn in the mud. Canvas roofing for tents, that provide just the barest protection against the torrential rains now hitting the area, have been deliberately slashed. Ration cards, essential for getting the meagre food supplies, have been confiscated or torn up.

As queues of people circled the tent of the charity Médecins Sans Frontières, one of its doctors said: "We have tremendous problems here. With what has happened we have taken one step forward and two back.

"This is obviously a setback. Three days without adequate food or medication may not be so dangerous for the healthy ones, but many of these people are at their lowest ebb, their bodies simply cannot take any more neglect.

"We have had to restart courses for malaria and antibiotics. We had local staff on duty when the camp closed, but with police and soldiers surrounding the site many people were simply too terrified to leave their tents and come over here to us."

Musa Ali Baharuddin, a 57-year-old man with six children, claimed the security forces had hacked his tent apart with a bayonet. He said: "They work on the outside with the Janjaweed and they took their chance to attack us inside the camp because the foreign workers were not here. If they [aid staff] go, things like this will keep on happening.''