EL FASHER, Sudan (Reuters) - U.S. and British envoys voiced concern about the situation in Darfur on Friday, where refugees who fled violence in the remote region complained to them of hunger and deteriorating security.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said one of the complaints was that the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was not doing enough to protect them.
Some of this, she told reporters accompanying the U.N. Security Council on a trip to Uganda and Sudan, was due to unrealistic expectations of what blue helmet troops could do in a region of western Sudan as big as France.
“When you separate what is practical and reasonable to expect on the one hand, there’s still a pervasive feeling that we heard that it wasn’t enough,” she said, referring to the work of the roughly 22,000 UNAMID troops and police.
Rice said it was difficult to translate those complaints “into concrete ideas about how and whether the (UNAMID) mandate ought to be adjusted, but clearly that underlying sense that it should be is something that I take away.”
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said, after speaking to refugees at the Abu Shouk camp near El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur: “They did express concerns about security, they expressed concerns about food security, they expressed concerns about wanting to go home. But most of all what they were calling for was peace and security.”
Rice and Lyall Grant said the kidnapping of a Hungarian UNAMID worker in El Fasher on Thursday highlighted the poor security situation in Darfur. Lyall Grant said there was no evidence the incident was linked to the council’s visit.
The conflict in Darfur flared in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government, accusing it of neglecting the region. A series of ceasefires, negotiations and international campaigns has failed to end the fighting and law and order has collapsed in most of the region.
The United Nations estimates as many as 300,000 people have died in the humanitarian crisis after Khartoum mobilized militias to quell the revolt.
More than 2 million Darfuris fled the conflict to makeshift camps, where U.N. agencies and aid groups that Sudan allows to operate there struggle to feed the displaced people.
Hanan Abdullah, a woman at the Abu Shouk camp, said she did not have enough food for herself and her child.
She said refugees at the camp, which the United Nations says houses around 55,000 people, are harassed, robbed and threatened. She said women were singled out for harassment but gave no details.
U.N. officials say rape is not uncommon at the camps.
Another woman, who declined to give her name, said the single bag of sorghum per month she receives from the United Nations, along with a small amount of sugar and salt, was not enough for herself and her five children.
But Georg Charpentier, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, told reporters displaced people at Abu Shouk had enough food, although he said a “re-registration exercise” was underway in the camp to determine exactly how much food was needed.
After visiting Abu Shouk and a nearby medical center, the 15 Security Council diplomats headed to Khartoum. They plan to meet members of the commission organizing an independence referendum for south Sudan.
The referendum, planned for January 9, 2011, is widely expected to result in a vote for independence, but preparations for the vote are behind schedule and analysts warn a delay could spark renewed violence between north and south Sudan.
The diplomats will not be meeting Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur.
Editing by Janet Lawrence