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April 2008 - Posts

SUDAN: Slow start to census

Photo: Ben Parker/IRIN
The Sudan census questionnaire
MALAKAL, 24 April 2008 (IRIN) - After living in Ethiopia for 14 years, Reak Chuol recently returned to his native Southern Sudan, keen to take part in a population census whose findings could influence the status of the region.

“I am not sure why, for two days now, my family have waited for the enumerators to count us but we have not seen them,” he said in Malakal, Upper Nile State. “If they were short of people to employ, they should have recruited more.”
Despite assurances by organisers that all was going well, many people in Upper Nile experienced delays before taking part in Sudan’s fifth census, which began on 22 April.

While the first day of the census was declared a public holiday, enumerators were largely hampered in their work by logistical problems. 
“We have covered only a fraction of the targeted population in my area, but it is going well,” a census supervisor, who requested anonymity, said in Malakal. Some 60,000 enumerators have been recruited, at a cost of just over US$100 million. 
Conducting the census in Darfur, where 300,000 people are estimated to have died and 2.7 million been displaced since 2003, poses its own set of challenges, even if Sudanese officials play them down.

“We are ready,” said Ibrahim Abbas, head of the Central Bureau of Statistics in North Darfur capital El Fasher, told IRIN by telephone.

As far as the government is concerned, access in Darfur is not a problem. Elections due in 2009 “can be held in 99 percent” of the region, presidential assistant Nafi Ali Nafi recently told the official news agency SUNA.

But according to UN sources, census enumerators will be able to access barely a fifth of Darfur. Even in camps for the internally displaced (IDPs), with huge concentrations of people, there are expected be problems.

The issue is so sensitive that some NGOs working in IDP camps have halted any humanitarian assessment and monitoring activity that could be construed as population counting during the census.

Both the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese Liberation Movement - Abdel Wahid, the main rebel groups in Darfur, have opposed the census. JEM has accused the Northern government of “planning to use the census and [2009 general] election to create a new demographic reality ... Results will be illegitimate without peace."

According to Human Rights Watch, the suspicions of many Darfuris over the census relate to land issues. “Some have reported … the presence of 'new' occupants on their land, and are concerned these new occupants will gain rights to the land if they are counted in the census."

Diplomats monitoring the exercise, due to run until 6 May, said heavy rains, making roads difficult to navigate; insecurity in the western areas of the state; incomplete preparations in some areas; and mixed messages from politicians days before the count were responsible for the slow start.
“The process has been very protracted, but we should expect preliminary data in four to six months’ time,” said Dragudi Buwa, head of the UN Population Fund in Southern Sudan, told IRIN in Juba, capital of Southern Sudan. The fund, with other UN agencies, has provided most of the technical assistance, including personnel training and mapping. “I am satisfied that everything is in place,”

However, problems have dogged the exercise from the beginning, leading to several postponements and wrangling over the questionnaires. And even when it all appeared set, Southern leaders raised an objection with barely a week to go.
The questions, they said, had missed out key issues such as ethnicity and religion, which would be important determinants of whether one was Southern or Northern Sudanese. In addition, as repatriation of Southerners from the North was still far from complete, funds for the census had yet to be disbursed, and preparedness was generally incomplete. 
The government in Khartoum, however, stuck to its guns, issuing a presidential decree that the count would go ahead. Southern President Salva Kiir Mayardit, it said, had agreed. However, sources in Juba said this put Kiir in a spot, forcing him to disregard some of his own ministers.
“There are an estimated two million Southerners in the North,” one said. “The South fears that they could be included among the northern population - and that is a large voting population come elections in 2009.”
Determined that the count go ahead, the Southern census commission issued a statement: “Even if internally displaced people who are still in the North do not come back for the census, their numbers will be reflected in the final Southern Sudan population figure.”
“Census politicised”
Aid workers say after initial misgivings, the Southern Sudan government came under pressure to accept the census plan.
“The whole exercise was politicised,” one aid worker said in Juba. “For example, ethnicity and religion are not core questions - rather they are political questions, if the purpose is to establish demographic trends. Yet this became an area of controversy.”
Apart from the election issue, Southern leaders are particularly sensitive about the numbers of returnees before a planned referendum in 2011 on whether the South remains part of the greater Sudan or breaks away to become a separate country.
Sources said the leaders were keen to sustain public confidence in their government, so they could influence the outcome. At the moment, that confidence is waning largely because of slow service delivery and inadequate help for returnees.
“They need to start delivering - quickly,” said a source, noting that the lifestyles of some Southern leaders had raised eyebrows. On census day, for example, a top official paid thousands of dollars to charter a plane from Juba to be counted at home.
Some locals say their government has started delivering, pointing to road construction and ongoing rehabilitation of key institutions. The census, they argue, will help the government identify gaps in service delivery that are critical to ensuring rapid development. 

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Critics say the government has not done enough in Southern Sudan
However, after waiting for the second day, Chuol decided to go to his workplace in Malakal town. “As you can see the town is back to its usual business with most people yet to be counted. The good news is that there is still a whole two weeks,” he told IRIN on 23 April. “I hope they will be able to cover everybody.”
But sceptics remain - encouraged by Southern leaders, who, in a 16 April press statement, emphasised that the government would reserve the right to have an opinion on the outcome of the results and their application to determine the ethnic, religious, cultural, social and economic diversity of Sudan. They said the same would apply to the use of the results to confirm or adjust the power and wealth-sharing arrangements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005.
“Census night in much of the South was a rainy, miserable night,” said Gabriel Mabior, a casual worker at Juba airport. “I am not superstitious, but that was an ominous beginning to this otherwise important process.” 

Sudanese stand up to be counted

Ille Mary steps out of the back of the truck in South Sudan with her three small children and her few possessions caked from head-to-toe in red dust.

Ille Mary
Ille Mary hopes the census will lead to changes in South Sudan

She made the long and difficult journey home to her village of Sinduru, 46km south of Juba, determined to be counted in a highly-political census which could pave the way for big change in Africa's biggest country.

The results will decide the sharing of power and wealth in her homeland.

"I am extremely happy to be back in my village. It looks the same as when I last saw it. It's a day that I have dreamt of for many years."

Ille has been living in a refugee camp in Uganda.


She was one of millions forced to flee from South Sudan during the civil war that ravaged the region for more than two decades.

She lost everything in the fighting - her father was killed, her mother disappeared in the bush and hasn't been seen since.

Map of Sudan

"I always wanted to come home because this is my motherland and now there is peace here. I wanted to come back for the census so I can be counted to help the south develop."

And many thousands have done the same - the authorities have noticed a surge of returnees ahead of the census.

Sudan's census was a key part of the north-south peace deal signed in 2005.

Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the population count will be used to help determine power- and wealth-sharing.

The head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan David Gressly said the country's first census since 1993 was highly significant.

"It's been a long time since the south has fully participated in a census and we don't really know the full impact of the war on the south," he said.

"This will give the government and all of us trying to support the reconstruction of the south clear information as to how things are progressing and where efforts need to be concentrated.


The census will be used to draw up constituency boundaries for national elections due next year and then a referendum on whether the south should secede, due in 2011.

The logistical and technical challenges of carrying out a census in Africa's largest country have been immense.

Crowds of people returning to south Sudan
Many thousands of South Sudanese have returned for the census

The census has already been delayed three times - the north and south have struggled to agree on the questions among other things and there have been problems over finances.

Mapping the country ahead of the count has also been extremely difficult because large swathes of land have been inaccessible.

In the south there is also the problem of landmines.

Furthermore, there is a large nomadic population - some estimate about five million people.

Darfur threats

The conflict in the western region of Darfur has also complicated the plans.

The census director for the north, Ibrahim Abbas, said there had been major logistical challenges.

"Some areas like Darfur, we had some security problems, some areas were not accessible and in the south we had some problems because some of the areas were mined."

Man looking for landmines
After years of conflict, land mines remain a huge problem in South Sudan

Many Darfuris now living in makeshift camps scattered across the region forced to flee from their homes over the last five years of conflict are refusing to take part in the census.

They fear that the results will be used against them by the government.

Darfur's rebel groups are also united in their opposition to the population count.

The Justice and Equality Movement has threatened to attack anyone conducting the census to stop the poll from going ahead.

And it is not just the Darfuris who are suspicious.


From the outset, the census has shown the ongoing distrust between the two former enemies from north and south, who are now joined in a national coalition government, supposedly as partners in peace.

It hasn't helped that much of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is still to be implemented - like demarcating the exact border between north and south and the status of the disputed oil-rich region of Abyei.

Just days before the census was due to start on 15 April, the government of South Sudan said it wanted to postpone the count until the end of the year.

Information Minister Gabriel Changson Chang said they were concerned about the number of southerners who still hadn't been repatriated.

Hundreds of thousands have returned but as many as two million southerners are still living in camps around the capital, Khartoum.

He said the southern government was worried that this would affect the results.


This month lobby group Justice Africa said: "If an accurate census were to reduce the figure for southerners, this would automatically reduce their representation in a post-2009 National Assembly and central government."

Some officials even accused Khartoum of deliberately stopping southerners returning - an allegation the north denies.

The government of South Sudan said it was also concerned that the question of ethnicity and religion had not been included in the census - the war was fought between the mainly Muslim, Arab north and the Christian and animist south.

After intense pressure from the international community, the south agreed the census could go ahead but the information minister said they would not be bound by the result.

This could mean that whatever the outcome of this census, the results are only going to spark further disputes down the road at a time when relations between north and south are already looking extremely shaky.

Key Sudan census gets under way
Crowds of people returning to south Sudan
Many thousands of South Sudanese have returned for the census

A national census, which was a vital step in the ending of years of civil war in Sudan, has begun.

It will help determine the way power and wealth is shared between Sudan's north and the oil-rich south ahead of next year's national polls.

The census was a key part of the peace deal signed in 2005, but the South says it will not be bound by the outcome.

In the troubled western Darfur region, many are refusing to take part in the count and rebel groups are opposing it.

I am extremely happy to be back in my village. It looks the same as when I last saw it. It's a day that I have dreamt of for many years
Ille Mary
Sudanese refugee


From the outset, the census has shown the ongoing distrust between the two former enemies from north and south, who are now joined in a national coalition government, supposedly as partners in peace, says the BBC's Amber Henshaw in Khartoum.

It has not helped that much of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is still to be implemented - like demarcating the exact border between north and south and the status of the disputed oil-rich region of Abyei.

The south threatened to postpone the census until the end of the year, concerned that many southerners had not managed to get home in time - claiming this may skew the results.

After huge international pressure, they agreed it could go ahead, but said they would not be bound by the outcome which many fear could lead to fresh disputes down the line.

Darfur thorn

In the war-torn west of the country, Darfur's rebel groups are united in opposition against the census.

The chairman of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement and commander in chief of the Sudan Liberation Army in Darfur, Ahmed Abdelshafi Toba, has warned they will try to stop the count going ahead.

Map of Sudan

"In the first place we don't have that national say [consensus] to have a national census. Secondly, a census requires peace in the country and we don't have that peace in the country; the country is still at war," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

"And the third thing also the census requires relative stability, and Sudan as a country has witnessed so many internal mass migrations from the rural sites to the centre.

"And third point also is that the census requires raising awareness for a sufficient time before holding such a process.

In addition to the political problems, the census planners have also been faced with huge logistical challenges.

Mapping Africa's largest country has been difficult - large areas are inaccessible in Darfur because of continuing fighting and in the south because of landmines, our correspondent adds.

First Vice - President: Population Census is Progressing Well in South Sudan

Khartoum, April 22 (SUNA)- The First Vice-President of the Republic and President of the Government of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, said that the population census, which began Tuesday in the southern states, is progressing well despite remoteness of some areas in the southern states. He called on all the citizens in the southern states to respond to the counting process, which will have valuable information to the decision-makers and realization of development. Kiir affirmed importance of the return of the southern displaced people to their home areas in the southern states. The General Supervisor of the population census in the southern states called on all the citizens to cooperate with the counting employees directly. MO/MO

Sudan backs proposal by Ki-moon for provision of constant funding

New York, April 17 (SUNA) - Sudan has announced its backing for a proposal by the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon with regard to establishment of joint task force between the United Nations and the African Union to review the provision of continued funding for the peace operations. Dr Mustafa Osman Ismail, the Advisor to the President of the Republic and the Presidential Envoy to the meeting of the United Nations Security Council has pointed out that the cooperation could include reinforcement of the capacity for the success of the preventive diplomacy and treatment of the root causes of conflicts. Dr Mustafa Osman has pointed out in his statement before the Council's meeting in New York that the current situation in Africa dictates that a new vision should be followed towards cooperation between the world Organization and the regional organization and the need to give the African Union a full chance to play its regional role and in the whole continent. The Sudan statement has commended the distinguished role being played by the African Union in resolving conflicts in the African continent. Ambassador Abdul Mahmoud Abdul Halim, Sudan's permanent representative to the United Nations told the Sudan News Agency SUNA correspondent in New York that the statement was positively received and welcomed and that there was consent on it from various parties that took part in the summit. He said the head of the Sudan delegation to the summit has stressed the need to have continued coordination between the UN Organization and the African Union and that he has called for provision of funding for the African Union. He said the Envoy has urged the United Nations to shoulder its responsibility for the provision of the required resources for development of the developing countries and the need for political settlement without focusing on the security aspects only and that the envoy has called on the states that host head of armed rebel movements to exercise pressure on them to join the peace process. Dr Ismail will meet a number of heads of state and government and heads of delegations currently taking part in the summit and is also due to meet with the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon. MA/MA

Summit meeting of Security Council starts in New York with participation of Sudan

New York, April 17 (SUNA)- A summit meeting of the United Nations Security Council and countries that have files before the Council including Sudan, whose delegation is led by Presidential Adviser Dr. Mustafa Osman Ismail, started in New York Wednesday. SUNA learnt that the summit meeting would discuss the relations between the UN and the regional organizations, top of them the African Union, and the required role for consolidating stability in the African continent. In an interview to SUNA, Dr. Ismail said the importance of the summit emanates from the fact that it brings together the UN Security Council and the Peace and Security Council of the African Union at the highest level and that it is convened under the presidency of South Africa. Dr. Ismail stressed the importance of cooperation between the international organization and the African Union to expedite solution of Darfur crisis. He explained that the summit would tackle a number of issues such as Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Comoros, noting that Darfur issue will be the main question. The Presidential Adviser said he came to present clearly and transparently the stance of Sudan before the summit and the obstacles that impeded expediting realization of peace in Darfur as well as the obstacles that prevented completion of the arrival of UNAMID troops in Darfur till now. Dr. Ismail pointed out in the interview to SUNA that Sudan calls on the Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities towards Darfur crisis, saying that concentration on the security aspects rather than the political ones harmed the progress of the peace process in the region. It is worth mentioning that Dr. Ismail meets Thursday UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and holds talks with a number of heads of state participating in the summit. BT/BT

Salva Kiir: Population census will be on 22nd of April

Khartoum, April 17 (SUNA)- The First Vice President of the Republic and President of the Government of Southern Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit said that the Fifth Population Census will now take place on the 22nd of April, the website of Radio Miraya FM reported Thursday. Radio Miraya FM said Salva Kiir was addressing a large crowd at the freedom Square in Rumbek at the burial ceremony of Gordon Muortat Mayen, a founding member of Anyanya and SPLA. His Excellency Salva Kiir stressed the importance of the coming 5th Sudan Population and Housing Census. He added that the Southern Sudanese who are still in other places would be counted where they are. BT/BT

Sudanese - American Talks to begin Wednesday in Rome

Khartoum, April 15 (SUNA) - Talks between Sudan and the United States is due to begin Wednesday in Rome on ways for normalization of the bilateral relations. Sudan delegation for the talks is headed by the Assistant of the President of the Republic, Dr. Nafie Ali Nafie, and including the Foreign Minister, Deng Alor, the General Director of the National Security and Intelligence Service, Gen. Salah Abdalla, and officials concerned with the Sudanese - American relations. SUNA learned that the Sudanese - American talks are scheduled to last till Saturday, but sources indicated that these talks could be extended if the dialogue process went on encouraging directions for the two parties. It is to be recalled that the current American administration has played a major role in encouraging the peace process which led to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the longstanding war between north and south Sudan. MO/MO

Sudan and China sign agreement on establishment of teaching hospital in Al-Damazin

Beijing, April 15 (SUNA) - Sudan and China have signed an agreement to establish a teaching hospital in Al-Damazin, Blue Nile State. The head of the Chinese company, which will implement the project signed for the Chinese side while the Blue Nile State's Health Minister Ali Mohamed Idris signed for the Sudanese side. The Chinese ambassador to Khartoum has said in press statements published by the Chinese media Tuesday that the signing of the contract of the establishment of the hospital reflects the strong relations that link Sudan and China, saying the hospital, which is a Chinese gift to the local citizens in the Blue Nile State, will be established as soon as possible. Minister Ali Mohamed Idris has meanwhile described as precious gift the establishment of the Chinese hospital, adding that the hospital will be provided with high technological equipment. The minister has said the capacity of the hospital will reach, at the first stage, about 100 beds. IA/BT

Taha receives Wali of North Kordofan State

Khartoum, April 15 (SUNA) - Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha received at his office in the Republican Palace Tuesday Wali (Governor) of North Kordofan State, Dr. Faisal Hassan Ibrahim, and got acquainted with the situations in the state and the ongoing preparations for making the Fifth Population Census a success in the state. Following the meeting, Dr. Ibrahim said in statement to SUNA that his state completed all the preparations for the census, pointing out that about 5,000 counters were trained, 500 of them are to work with the nomads, adding that civil society, native administrations and people committees have been mobilized to work at the grassroots to make the census a success. BH/BT

President Al-Bashir Lauds Algerian Stances in Support of Sudan

Khartoum, April 15 (SUNA)- President of the Republic, Field Marshal Omer Al-Bashir, has expressed Sudan appreciation of the stances of Algeria in support of Sudan and its issues internationally and regionally. This came during his meeting Tuesday at the Guest House with the visiting Algerian Minister of Relations with Parliament, Mahmoud Khazri. President Al-Bashir praised the distinguished level of the relations between Khartoum and Algiers, calling for more consolidation to the relations between the two countries in all domains. In a press statement to SUNA after the meeting, the Algerian minister said that he conveyed to President Al-Bashir the greetings of the Algerian President, Abdul-Aziz Boutafliqa, and the firm stance of the Algerian government and people in support of Sudan unity and the integrity of its territories and its leading role in the Arab and African levels. He described the Sudanese - Algerian relations as unique, hoping that the bilateral relations will witness more consolidation for the interest of the two sister peoples. MO/MO

Attacks on drivers affecting food deliveries


Photo: WFP
Five people have been killed in attacks on WFP humanitarian transporters in Sudan in less than three weeks
NAIROBI,  April 2008 (IRIN) - Recent attacks on trucks contracted by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to transport food to Darfur and Southern Sudan have slowed down deliveries and affected the UN agency's ability to support returnees, the agency warned.

"Because of truck hijackings, we are moving about half the amount of food that we should be moving into Darfur to pre-position ahead of the rainy season," Peter Smerdon, WFP spokesman in Nairobi, told IRIN. "If this continues in the South we might start having the same problem."

In the latest incident, Hamid Dafaalla, a 47-year-old driver of a WFP-contracted truck, and his assistant were killed in Southern Sudan as they returned from delivering food to Rumbek.

His death brought to five the number of people killed in attacks on WFP humanitarian transporters in Sudan in less than three weeks.

"We are shocked and saddened by this heartless killing," Ebenezer Tagoe, WFP Sudan deputy director, said in a statement. "Attacks against vehicles delivering humanitarian assistance are completely unacceptable."

Photo: Mike White
Attacks on transporters has made WFP move about half the amount of food it should be moving into Darfur to pre-position ahead of the rainy season
The attack on Dafaalla, WFP said, occurred 6km from Mayom town in Unity State. The spot is near where two WFP-contracted drivers were stabbed to death on 22 March. Two days later, another WFP-contracted driver was shot dead and his assistant injured while delivering food to Nyala in South Darfur.

"The continued insecurity on the roads in areas where we operate presents not only a serious threat to the drivers, but also to vulnerable people who depend on this food for their survival," Tagoe added.

According to the office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, nearly 90 people working with humanitarian operations in Darfur have been abducted, mostly during hijacking incidents, since the beginning of 2008.

This is in addition to killings in the south where about two million people have returned since a peace accord ended more than two decades of conflict in 2005, and rely on aid for survival.

"If security on the roads to Darfur does not improve, WFP risks having to reduce rations in some areas where the flow of deliveries cannot be maintained," Smerdon added.

Southern authorities stockpile meningitis drugs


Photo: Ecumenical Adovcacy Alliance
Southern Sudan has stocked up on meningitis drugs
JUBA, April 2008 (IRIN) - Southern Sudan has stocked up on meningitis drugs in the capital Juba and various states in a bid to minimise the impact of a possible outbreak during the dry season, a senior official said.

"We are better prepared than we were last year when we had an outbreak of meningitis and cholera," Monywiir Arop, under-secretary in the Southern Sudan health ministry, said. "We have developed a preparedness plan for the year."

Southern Sudan reported 12,000 meningitis cases in 2007, ranking second to Burkina Faso in numbers of cases out of 21 African countries in the so-called meningitis belt.

The high infection levels, Arop said, had compelled the health ministry, the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other organisations to stockpile  500,000 million vaccines in the event of an outbreak.

"The possibility of many households in Juba getting meningitis is very high because of unhygienic conditions, congestion and many returnees coming back to  South Sudan," Arop told IRIN.

Abdul Rahman Wurie, a WHO early warning epidemiologist, said Southern Sudan was vulnerable to various diseases because of the impact of climate change and flooding, the absence of an adequate health infrastructure, including trained personnel, and the return of large numbers of displaced people.

Dust storms, which are common during the January to April dry season, for example, lead to an increase in respiratory infections and help spread meningitis because the bacteria attach to dust particles.
''We are better prepared than we were last year when we had an outbreak of meningitis and cholera''

The meningitis belt, according to WHO, stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, with an estimated population of 300 million people. Meningitis epidemics occur in cycles. The disease, a potentially deadly infection of the thin lining that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord, can kill unless quickly treated although it can be controlled through vaccination.

"The region is prone to epidemic outbreaks ... last week, we experienced cholera in Yei [with] 194 cases, but that is now under control," Wurie said.

WHO, he added, had posted more epidemiologists to monitor Southern Sudan and was conducting training on enhanced meningitis surveillance; while the government of Southern Sudan had adopted an integrated disease surveillance and response strategy.

Upsurge in malaria

Apart from meningitis and cholera, the region also suffers from malaria. Last year, Wurie said, five states that were hit by raging floods, especially Upper Nile State, experienced an upsurge in malaria infection. Rift Valley fever was also identified in Upper Nile State.

To contain malaria, the government and its partners have procured 1.6 million mosquito nets for distribution this month in Jonglei, Unity, Western Equatorial, Upper Nile and Northern Bhar Al Ghazal states.

"Given the meagre resources, we can only manage to provide nets to the vulnerable population first - lactating mothers and their children," Arop said.

Southern Sudan emerged from more than two decades of conflict after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the north in January 2005.

The war devastated the region, displacing an estimated four million southerners. Since the accord, about two million southerners have returned home from displaced camps in other parts of Sudan or from refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

Human Rights Watch calls on government to end sexual violence in Darfur


Photo: IRIN
A camp for the internally displaced in Darfur
NAIROBI, 7 April 2008 (IRIN) - The Sudanese government and rebel groups in the war-ravaged Darfur region should immediately take measures to end the sexual violence endemic to the conflict, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

"The risk of sexual violence is a fact of everyday life for many women and girls in Darfur," HRW said in a 7 April report, Five Years On - No Justice for Sexual Violence in Darfur. "It is a particularly disturbing feature of the ongoing armed conflict, a consequence of abusive state armed forces and non-state armed groups, and of the breakdown of law and order."

Five years into the Darfur conflict, HRW said, sexual violence had continued both during attacks on civilians and in periods of relative calm, with women and girls living in camps for the displaced, towns and rural areas remaining "extremely vulnerable" to sexual violence.

"In the mostly Muslim province of Darfur, sexual violence is an extremely sensitive topic," HRW said. "Women and girls often do not admit to being sexually abused because they fear social stigmatisation and do not trust the authorities to take action. Many authorities refuse to acknowledge the problem and some accuse victims of lying to international aid workers to exaggerate their plight for political ends."

Violence erupted in Darfur in 2003, with the government and government-backed Janjaweed militia unleashing a campaign against ethnic groups perceived to be associated with two main rebel groups: the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Since then, civilians have borne the brunt of the violence, with aid agencies estimating at that at least 200,000 people have been killed and millions displaced.

Photo: Derk Segaar/IRIN
Armed men in Darfur
"It is imperative the Sudanese government and UNAMID [United Nations-African Union mission], give high priority to meeting the challenges associated with addressing sexual violence," HRW said. "The government should demonstrate its resolve to address these serious human rights violations by state security forces and government-backed militias through concrete actions addressing the causes of sexual violence."

It urged the government to show its commitment to combating sexual violence by ending all attacks on civilians, including women and children, by government forces and state-backed militia; issuing a presidential decree to the armed forces and government-sponsored militia that rape and other forms of sexual violence would be promptly investigated and prosecuted; and holding those responsible accountable.

"The government also needs to bolster the justice sector's capacity to respond to sexually violent crimes," HRW said. "It should ensure police and prosecutors are trained in victim-sensitive approaches to handling criminal investigations, and that properly trained female police investigators are deployed to police stations in Darfur, especially to internally displaced persons [IDP] camps."

HRW urged the Sudanese government to revise criminal laws on sexual violence to include attempted rape and to ensure that rape victims were not exposed to prosecution for adultery, "as is possible - and has happened in the past - under Sudanese law".

"[The government] should repeal immunity laws that provide members of the security forces effective immunity from prosecution in civilian courts for human rights violations, including acts of sexual violence," HRW said.

It demanded that rebel forces and groups in Darfur likewise stop attacking civilians, including women and children, and issue clear instructions to group members that rape and other forms of sexual violence would be fully investigated and prosecuted and perpetrators held accountable.

"Former rebels, to the extent that they administer justice in areas under their control, should also seek assistance to bolster the capability of police and prosecutors to bring perpetrators of sexual violence crimes to justice," HRW said.

It urged UNAMID to deploy to areas where civilians needed the most protection and to increase preventive "firewood patrols" to protect women and girls who go out of IDP camps in search of firewood.

Chad accused Sudan on rebel raid

Chadian rebels
Chadian rebels attacked the country's capital in February

The Chadian government says insurgents backed by Sudan have launched a fresh offensive in the east of the country.

The report comes less than a month after the two countries signed a non-aggression pact.

A group of Darfur rebels claimed the Sudanese army was fighting alongside the Chadian opposition - an allegation denied by Khartoum.

The United Nations has accused the two countries of fighting a proxy war using each other's rebel groups.

In a statement, the Chadian defence ministry said the insurgents had crossed the border under orders from the Sudanese government to attack the area around Ade.

Sources said heavy fighting between the Chadian insurgents and the army had erupted in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

A group of Darfur's rebels - the Justice and Equality Movement - claimed the Sudanese army was fighting alongside the Chadian rebels.

Khartoum says that Sudan's armed forces had no hand in what was happening in Chad.

Growing tensions

Tensions have been high since an attempt by Chadian rebels to overthrow President Idriss Deby in February.

Chad accused Sudan of masterminding the attempted coup.

Last month the presidents of Chad and Sudan signed an accord in Senegal aimed at halting five years of hostilities between the two countries.

Chad's Idriss Deby and Sudan's Omar al-Bashir agreed to implement past failed peace pacts at a Dakar summit.

Map of Chad, Darfur and CAR

It called for the establishment of a monitoring group of foreign ministers from a handful of African countries that would meet monthly to ensure there have been no violations.

However, rebels from both Chad and Sudan dismissed the agreement as a piece of paper.

Chad had taken steps to prevent attacks from rebels, including digging a deep trench around N'Djamena and cutting down trees which could provide cover for attackers.