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|Verfasst am: Mo Feb 18, 2008 01:31:34
Titel: Fate of Darfur’s missing children
|Fate of Darfur’s missing children worries UN agency
Last updated: Sat, Feb 16, 2008 21:17 PM (EAT)
Several days after Sudanese government-backed militia attacked villages in West Darfur, hundreds of children remain unaccounted for, the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) says.
“There are an unknown number of children aged 12-18 who are missing, especially boys. Nobody knows what has happened to these children,” Naqibullah Safi, head of Unicef for West Darfur, said.
Initial reports suggested that up to 800 children were unaccounted for, but the actual number is probably lower, Unicef said in a statement following an assessment mission to the towns of Sirba and Abu Surouj.
“One of Unicef’s main concerns is to take care of the large numbers of children who have been orphaned or abandoned by their parents, or have gone missing in the confusion of the last few days,” the agency noted.
The Unicef team found that buildings had been burned and thousands of residents had fled the towns.
“Initially people needed food and medicine, there were cases of malnutrition, but the most common problem was people were burnt,” Safi said.
“There are some civilian casualties, but exact figures are not known. Most shelters in Sirba have been burnt, and 60-70 per cent of Abu Surouj.” The attacks sparked a mass evacuation from the region, leaving only a few thousand residents in Abu Surouj. “We do not know the exact figures, but there are indications as many as 30,000 people might have been displaced,” Safi said.
ICRC official killed
A national staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was killed during the fighting in Seleia.
According to Sudanese officials, the February 8 attacks were intended to rout opposition Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) forces from Abu Surouj, Sirba and Seleia towns. But JEM officials say the attacks instead targeted civilians.
The UN World Food Programme, which participated in the joint assessment mission, said about 5,000 people in Sirba were in urgent need of food, shelter, medical support and other non-food items.
Fighting in Darfur escalated sharply in 2003 when communities living there took up arms against the government in Khartoum, accusing it of marginalising Darfur. At least 200,000 lives are estimated to have been lost while over two million people have fled their homes.
Meanwhile, around 135 rebels captured when they attacked the Chadian capital N’djamena in early February were displayed by Chadian police on Wednesday, some of whom were identified as children.
“Among these prisoners there are minors,” Interior Minister Ahmat Mahamat Bachir said during a press conference. He added that the children cannot be released at the moment. “These young people have embarked on this path [of being child combatants] so you cannot return them to their villages yet. They need to be re-educated to change their way of thinking.”
IRIN contacted Unicef in N’djamena for comment but a spokeswoman said the agency’s staff members were only beginning to return to the city having been evacuated earlier in the month during the fighting.
“All I can say for now is that if it involves children, then Unicef is also going to be involved,” Cifora Monier, the spokeswoman, said.
Chad’s government has also recruited children into its ranks, according to Unicef and human rights groups. In recent months, Chadians say the army has been forcibly recruiting men and boys in N’djamena and other towns, giving them minimal training before shipping them out to fronts in the east.
In December 2007, Unicef told IRIN that one of its programmes to demobilise child soldiers from the Chadian army had been cancelled by the government.
Chad’s interior minister said security forces are continuing to look for rebels and their accomplices in N’djamena who are still in hiding.
“We will continue the house-to-house searches and find those mercenaries,” he said.
His key message was not about the use of child soldiers in the country’s brutal fighting, but that many of the prisoners were from Sudan. Many, he said, are “radical Muslims.”
“Our defence forces captured all of these Islamic mercenaries in the pay of Sudan. You have identity cards … Some are from Islamic groups; some are from Al Qaeda,” he said.
“They were sent by [Sudan’s President] Umar Al-Bashir [and] al Qaeda not only to destabilise Chad but the whole of Africa,” he said.
Sudan’s government has denied that it is backing the rebels in Chad or that it is in league with al Qaeda.
Regarding widespread reports that Chad’s government had recently rounded up political opponents who have since disappeared, the minister said a judicial inquiry into the matter began on February 12.
France, the former colonial power in Chad, had recently called for clarification of the whereabouts of the politicians. The minister said it was “already clear” that the rebels, not the government, were responsible for the opposition leaders disappearing.
“These people were arrested when their homes were under the control of mercenaries. We only learned of their arrests on the radio,” he said. “It is not known if they were arrested [by the rebels] or if they are hidden somewhere [with the rebels],” he said.
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