Fear hits harvest in fresh threat to Darfur

TWO million people who have fled their homes in the Darfur region of Sudan to escape the genocide there face a new crisis next year because they have been too scared to return to plant crops, aid workers warned yesterday.

Oxfam said there was little chance of a harvest this year because of the continuing violence in the region and stressed more international assistance would be needed to tide them over until the next possible harvest in October 2006.

The first of four planes loaded with additional aid was due to leave the UK last night, with another scheduled to depart on Friday. Later in the month, two more will fly to Chad, where hundreds of thousands of people have taken refuge after crossing over the border from Darfur.

With upwards of 300,000 people already dead as a result of what Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, last month described as genocide, Oxfam spokesman Adrian McIntyre said there appeared to be little sign of any easing of the immediate crisis.

"People are not leaving the camps because they are afraid to go back home so they are missing the planting season," he said.

Paul Smith-Lomas, Oxfam’s regional director, said: "Over two million people in Darfur are almost completely dependant on external assistance. Aid workers are doing all they can to help, but it simply isn’t enough. Most of the displaced people still do not feel safe enough to return home.

"If they miss this year’s planting season, the next harvest won’t be until October 2006. An end to the fighting is urgently needed so people can begin to rebuild their lives."

Those people who have fled their homes to seek refuge in camps face the prospect of water shortages and an increased risk of disease, according to Oxfam. A number of other aid organisations, including the World Food Programme, have recently warned of the need for increased international assistance for the refugees.

Oxfam estimates that there are 200,000 displaced people in the north Darfur region alone, while in one camp in south Darfur, Kalma, 150,000 are packed together. In Dalih camp near the town of Tawila, two hand water pumps serve 10,000 people.

Last month, The Scotsman highlighted the case of one Sudanese refugee, Dr Musa Saadeldin, who escaped to Britain after he was targeted by Sudanese security police for treating members of rebel groups fighting the Sudanese army and militias backed by the Khartoum government.

Yesterday, a number of other refugees joined campaigners outside Downing Street to demand a 30 million cash injection to fund an expanded peacekeeping force for the troubled region.

More than 250 asylum seekers staged a "die-in" by lying in the street and brandishing placards bearing names of some of the victims of the conflict.

Among the protesters was political rap star Emmanuel Jal, 25, whose song Gua, the Arabic word for "power" is currently topping the Kenyan charts.

"I am holding the name of lady called Asha Mohammed, she was killed in one of the Darfur attacks," he said.

"The people in Darfur are crying out for peace and I feel their pain because the same happened to me some years back."

The singer said he became a child soldier armed with an AK47 at the age of eight after being lured into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in the country’s long-running ethnic conflict.

"The British are respected in Sudan, and we believe the British can play a part in bringing peace to my troubled country," he said.

The protest, organised by Waging Peace, brought many of Darfur’s refugees to London from their new homes in Britain, mostly in the Midlands.

"If you want to see what an asylum seeker looks like - then this is it," said the group’s director Rebecca Tinsley, pointing at the cheering throng. "Most of these people have been tortured by the Sudanese authorities, as well as losing the people close to them."

The crowd of Darfurian activists lay sprawled in a tight group, chanting "sanctions against Sudan’s killer leaders", and other slogans only yards from No 10.

She added: "We are not asking for British troops to be sent to Darfur, we are asking for more support for the African Union troops that are already there. At the moment, they have a pitiful number of soldiers in an area the size of France. We want to get money to the African Union so that Africa can solve its own problems."

Carolyn Haymann, from Peace Direct, said about 30,000 more troops were needed to prevent Darfur’s ethnic blacks from further attacks from Arab militia, known as Janjaweed.

Providing the necessary armed force would cost a further 30 million which AU member states could ill afford, she said.

Campaigners are calling for food parcels, clothing and shelter for the refugees as well as a "no-fly zone" over Darfur to halt the bombing of villages.

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