Sudanese attack Darfur refugee camp

August 25, 2008 12:56:48 PM PDT
Sudanese government forces attacked one of Darfur's largest refugee camps at dawn Monday, killing dozens of civilians, according to rebels and a witness in the camp.Sudan's military acknowledged the raid but said soldiers were searching for smuggled weapons.

The United Nations said it was "gravely concerned" about the situation inside the Kalma camp in southern Darfur after it received reports that Sudanese police vehicles surrounded it and subsequent attacks caused "injuries and deaths of civilians."

The U.N. did not provide a death toll. But a resident of the camp, Mandela Abdullah Mohammed, told The Associated Press by telephone that he counted 32 dead bodies, including several women and children.

More than 50 vehicles "packed with armed men wearing police and security forces' uniforms ... hit us with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns," Mohammed said.

But a military spokesman said government troops were fired on first.

"They were surprised by heavy gunfire from within the camp. There was an exchange of fire and a number of victims," said spokesman Sawarmy Khaled, without elaborating. He said the fighting had stopped by Monday night.

The assault comes as Sudan's president faces genocide charges for alleged government-backed attacks on ethnic Africans in the country's troubled western region. Up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million have been displaced since a rebellion began in Darfur in 2003.

The International Criminal Court is expected to decide whether to issue a warrant for his arrest within months.

Kalma, which sits about 15 miles from the South Darfur capital of Nyala, is home to about 90,000 residents.

Sudanese soldiers stormed the camp, a sprawling mix of mud huts and scrap-plastic tents, and immediately opened fire on civilians, said Nimr Abdel-Rahman, spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Army, a Darfur rebel group.

He told AP by telephone from Darfur that 45 people were killed and 135 wounded. He was about 30 miles from Kalma but said the information came from witnesses and aid workers on the ground.

"If government forces carry out more attacks against our people, the SLA is ready to confront and retaliate," Abdel-Rahman said.

A London-based spokesman for the same group, Yahia Bolad, said soldiers raided the same camp two weeks ago and confiscated weapons.

"The government sent a strong military force and attacked the camp with the intention of killing civilians," Bolad told AP by telephone.

In its report about the attack, U.N.-operated Miraya radio said hundreds of refugees in the camp staged demonstrations against Sudan's government.

At least 65 people suffering from gunshot wounds - more than half of them women and children - were admitted to a nearby clinic run by Doctors Without Borders, said the aid group's Darfur coordinator, Jose Hulsenbek. A convoy entered the camp later Monday to evacuate those in serious condition.

The U.N. said such attacks "severely threaten the safety and security of civilians who have a right to protection."


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