Homes burned at alleged Darfur attack site: peacekeepers

KHARTOUM Thu Nov 8, 2012 7:53am EST

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Peacekeepers said they had discovered homes burned and dead animals and ammunition littering the ground in a Darfur village allegedly attacked by pro-government forces last week.

Their report gave a rare close-up description of the conflict in the remote region, where rebels demanding greater political and economic sway for their ethnic minorities took up arms in 2003.

Events in Darfur are often hard to verify because journalists' access is restricted.

An African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) team that went to Sigili on Tuesday found the village "completely deserted, with apparent signs of an abrupt departure", the peacekeepers said in a statement late on Wednesday.

"It also noticed several signs of destruction of housing and property, killed animals, and burnt houses. Ammunition was also found in different sites across the village."

Last week, UNAMID said government forces had blocked an earlier attempt to access the site, which is about 40 km (25 miles) southeast of North Darfur's capital El Fasher.

While violence in Darfur is down from its peak in 2003 and 2004, banditry, tribal fighting and clashes between rebels and government forces have continued to plague the region.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said 13 civilians including two infants were killed in Sigili on November 2, when scores of armed men in vehicles and on camels attacked the village, firing on civilians and looting and burning shops and homes.

It said witnesses identified the attackers as ethnic Berti members of the Popular Defence Forces, a militia the government has deployed alongside the army, but added it could not confirm this.

State media has reported 10 people died in the area in what it called a tribal dispute.

UNAMID said it had also tried to go to the Abu Delek area southeast of El Fasher, but was stopped by members of the Popular Defence Forces.

"After lengthy discussion, the team decided to turn back to El Fasher and postpone the mission to Abu Delek," UNAMID said.

The attempt was the peacekeepers' second to get to Abu Delek to check reports of clashes between government forces and armed groups. During an October 25 attempt, the team came under heavy gunfire from an unidentified armed group, it said.

Rights groups and the United Nations have estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have died in the Darfur conflict, while the government has put the toll at around 10,000.

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and other officials on charges of war crimes in the region. They deny the accusations.

(Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz; editing by Andrew Roche)

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