Tens of thousands flood major Darfur camp

KHARTOUM Tue Mar 22, 2011 2:46pm EDT

1 of 4. Tens of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) who fled their village, following clashes between the Government of Sudan and rebel movements, sought protection at the Zamzam IDP camp in North Darfur, seen here in this March 15, 2011 handout photograph.

Credit: Reuters/UNAMID/Olivier Chassot

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - More than 70,000 people have fled fighting in Sudan's western Darfur region in the last three months, swelling numbers at a major refugee camp by more than third, U.N. humanitarian officials said.

A series of ceasefires and foreign-backed talks have failed to end fighting in the remote area, where conflict between mostly non-Arab rebels and government troops backed by largely Arab militias has simmered for nearly eight years.

Violence has fallen from levels seen in 2003 and 2004 when rebel groups banded together in a revolt against Khartoum, which they accused of monopolizing power. But fighting has escalated since December, prompting thousands to flee and drawing concern from U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon.

About 44,000 people have arrived at the Zam Zam camp alone near Darfur's capital of El Fasher, a U.N. humanitarian official said. Local leaders say an additional 17,000 people have also arrived in the camp, but their verification has not yet begun, the official said.

People were still arriving at the camp as of last week, which now hosts roughly 160,000-170,000 people, the official said.

That would make Zam Zam camp the biggest in Darfur, easily surpassing government estimates for the large Gereida camp in South Darfur.

U.N.-African Union peacekeepers (UNAMID) have said the new arrivals had fled clashes this year between rebels and government forces and bombing raids in North Darfur.

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, Georg Charpentier, last week warned that the rapid influx of refugees had put "considerable strain" on basic services and resources available at the camp. He also called for broadening the reach of assistance to beyond the main refugee camps.

Adding to tensions, there have also been local reports of a government raid at Zam Zam camp on Sunday.

UNAMID received reports from community leaders at the camp indicating shots were fired and at least one person was wounded a spokesman said.

The reports received said as many as 17 people were arrested, Chris Cycmanick, a UNAMID spokesman said.

The Hague-based International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of committing genocide in Darfur.

U.N. officials estimate as many 300,000 people have died there since 2003 due to the humanitarian crisis. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.

(Editing by Matthew Jones)

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