Thousands in Darfur seek protection after fighting

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Thousands of civilians in Sudan’s troubled Darfur have sought protection around peacekeeping bases after rebel attacks, as international donors seek support for a region scarred by a decade of conflict.

The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) Sunday confirmed rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army’s Minni Minnawi faction “attacked and seized” the towns of Muhagiriya and Labado. There were also reports of possible air strikes.

“Thousands of civilians, many with their livestock, are concentrated around UNAMID team sites in Muhagiriya and Labado for protection. The pressure from the presence of civilians, especially in Muhagiriya, is growing,” the peacekeepers said in a statement.

On Saturday the rebels said they had killed government troops and occupied the areas, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of the South Darfur state capital Nyala.

The latest unrest came as insurgents, who have been fighting for 10 years in Darfur, denounced an international donor conference which seeks support for “rebuilding” the devastated region.

“I would like to condemn very strongly” the meeting which began Sunday in the Gulf state of Qatar, said Abdel Wahid Mohammed al-Nur, who heads another faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).

“To have (a) donors’ conference you have to have peace and security on the ground first,” said Nur, who launched the uprising in 2003.

Speaking to AFP, he alleged that donated money “will not go to the people”.

Gibril Adam Bilal, spokesman for the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), asked the international community “not to participate in giving the government of Sudan a chance to conduct crimes” against the people.

The Doha conference, which ends on Monday, was agreed under a July 2011 peace deal which Khartoum signed in the Qatari capital with an alliance of rebel splinter groups.

“This conference is a unique opportunity for Sudan and Darfur to turn the destiny of this conflict-ridden region,” said Jorg Kuhnel, team leader of the U.N. Development Programme in Sudan.

In his speech at Doha, Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha urged “all armed groups to make the historic decision to respect the will of the people of Darfur,” referring to militants who have so far refused to join the 2011 peace agreement

Major rebel movements including JEM and the SLA have refused to sign the peace pact, although a breakaway faction of JEM acceded to the deal on the eve of the donors’ conference.

While the worst of the violence has long passed, rebel-government clashes continue along with inter-Arab battles, kidnappings, carjacking’s and other crimes.

But the $7-billion draft development strategy on the table in Doha says there will probably never be an ideal time for recovery, and delays can only make the process more difficult.

Sudan is perceived as one of the world’s most corrupt countries. The development plan proposes an independent monitoring mechanism and says other safeguards will be built in, including from the United Nations and World Bank.

President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide allegedly committed in Darfur.

His defense minister and a state governor are also wanted.