Sudan: International aid worker raped in Darfur

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 24 Jan 2007
By Francois Murphy and Opheera McDoom

PARIS/KHARTOUM, Jan 24 (Reuters) - An international aid worker was raped in Darfur, a French aid agency said on Wednesday of the first such reported assault in Sudan's west and the latest in a wave of attacks against the world's largest humanitarian operation.

Action Contre La Faim, which fights malnutrition in the vast region, said one employee was raped, others were sexually assaulted and there was a mock execution during an attack on their compound in December in rebel-controlled Gereida town.

"There were sexual assaults including one rape," an ACF spokeswoman said in Paris.

"They ... looted everything, stole vehicles, communication equipment, beat employees, local and international staff," she added.

Armed men simultaneously attacked all aid agencies working in Gereida in December. Some 71 humanitarian workers were evacuated and tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and all vehicles were stolen.

Gereida town houses the largest number of refugees in Darfur, with 130,000 encamped in miserable conditions having fled attacks on their villages in the desert region.

It was not clear who attacked the aid agencies there. Sources in the aid community in Khartoum said they suspected a breakaway faction from Darfur rebel leader Minni Arcua Minnawi.

Minnawi was the only one of three rebel negotiating factions to sign a May peace deal with the government.

He then moved to Khartoum to take up the fourth-ranking position in the presidency, but he has since lost much control on the ground and many supporters have deserted him saying he is sidelined on Darfur policies.

Aid agencies in Darfur are under intense scrutiny from governmental authorities, who often obstruct their work with bureaucratic requirements and travel permits.

Those who speak out about the violence in Darfur have been punished, threatened with expulsion or even expelled entirely, as the Norwegian Refugee Council was last year.

This fear of retribution has created what aid workers call a "code of silence" among humanitarian agencies and much information on attacks and clashes in Darfur remain unknown to the public.

The Khartoum government denies rape is widespread in Darfur, despite medical evidence documenting hundreds of sexual assaults against women provided by health centres run by international aid agencies.

But the rape of an international in Darfur is rare, though there is a growing trend of such assaults in the remote region.

In September, at least one international from Medecins Sans Frontieres was seriously sexually assaulted in Darfur. The United Nations said on Wednesday one of its international workers in Nyala town, South Darfur, was sexually assaulted by police.

Human rights groups criticise Khartoum for the atmosphere of impunity in the region.

Four years of rape, pillage and murder in Darfur has killed an estimated 200,000 people and forced some 2.5 million from their homes in violence Washington calls genocide.

Khartoum denies genocide. The International Criminal Court is investigating alleged war crimes in the region.

Agencies say the violence meant large parts of Darfur were out of reach to aid workers. Some have said the access is as limited as any time since rebels took up arms against the government in early 2003.

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