September 3, 2008 / 12:13 PM / 11 years ago

Sudan forces build up outside Darfur camp - U.N.

By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Sudanese forces accused of killing more than 30 people in a raid on a Darfur camp have started to build up their position outside the settlement, raising fears of a new attack, peacekeepers said on Wednesday.

The joint U.N./African Union UNAMID peacekeeping force said a patrol had seen Sudanese police erecting tents at a new base close to the Kalma camp for displaced people in south Darfur.

UNAMID said it would now deploy its own soldiers and police to Kalma "on a permanent basis" after a tribal leader in the camp said residents were starting to panic about the possibility of a new assault.

No one from Sudan’s armed forces was immediately available to comment on the alleged build-up.

A total of 32 camp residents, including seven children as young as 11, were killed after armed Sudanese forces entered Kalma last week, saying they were searching for weapons and "suspects", UNAMID said after the attack.

Aid sources who asked not to be named said it was some of the worst violence seen in a camp for displaced people since the start of the five-year conflict.

The Sudanese army accused the media of exaggerating the death count and claimed soldiers and police had been fired on first by bandits and rebels hiding in the camp, using its residents as human shields.

State media said on Tuesday that Sudan’s Justice Minister had set up a committee to investigate the incident in the settlement close to Nyala, capital of south Darfur state.

Kalma residents say they have suffered a string of raids by government-backed militia and Sudanese forces, bent on clearing the camp as part of a forced relocation programme.

But Sudanese authorities have repeatedly said Kalma is being used as a base and weapons store by some of the numerous rebel and bandit groups that have sprung up since the conflict began.

Members of a UNAMID patrol spotted the new police build-up on Monday, according to a statement pout out by the undermanned force of mostly African troops.

"One Sheikh from Kalma camp reported that GoS (the Government of Sudan) was planning another attack on the camp in the near future," read the statement.

"He stressed that further tension and panic were mounting among the internally displaced persons as a result of this information."

More than five years of fighting in Darfur has killed 200,000 and forced more than 2.5 million to take refuge in camps like Kalma. International aid groups have mounted the world’s largest humanitarian operation in response.

The UNAMID force, which still only has 9,900 soldiers and police on the ground out of a promised 26,000, has struggled to cover the remote western region which is about the size of Spain. (Editing by Giles Elgood)

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