Raids on Darfur Food Aid Trucks Leave Drivers Dead, Wounded

KHARTOUM, Sudan, April 5, 2005 (ENS) - Shootings, attacks on drivers and thefts of trucks carrying food aid are creating a climate of fear that is hampering the delivery of essential food to millions of displaced people in the Darfur region of western Sudan, the UN World Food Programme warns.

"The security situation is so bad that many drivers are now refusing to move through sections of the road corridors to the three Darfur states," said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, World Food Programme (WFP) Sudan country director.

The driver of a WFP contracted truck was shot dead in a raid in on January 6, near El-Geneina in West Darfur. Two passengers were also shot and wounded in the attack. Drivers have been taken hostage, and two are still missing.


Every day, hundreds of WFP trucks and planes are on the move to deliver food aid. (Photo by Laura Melo courtesy WFP)
While accustomed to a certain degree of risk in the region, some WFP contract truck drivers are refusing to move out onto the increasingly dangerous roads. They halted a 37 truck convoy in Ed-Daien last week for security reasons.

Their fears are not unfounded. In March, a driver was shot and wounded, another had his hands broken, and others were severely beaten. A total of 13 WFP contracted trucks are still missing after a string of raids; eight of these are known to be held by the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).

On March 21, the drivers of seven WFP contracted trucks travelling between El-Obeid and El-Fasher were beaten and one man’s hands were broken, in Burush in North Darfur. WFP food was looted and the drivers’ belongings were stolen. The following day, four men driving WFP contracted trucks on the same route refused to move forward for fear of similar attacks.

On March 14, a WFP contracted truck in South Darfur was stopped by five armed men, who shot at the driver and beat him, before stealing his personal belongings. He was treated in Nyala for a gunshot wound to the head.

On March 7 in North Darfur, a total of 12 WFP contracted trucks were stolen in a series of attacks. A driver was shot and wounded, and five drivers and a convoy leader were taken hostage.

Even so, the world's largest humanitarian agency is pushing ahead with deliveries in an effort to reach rising numbers of people in need and to preposition supplies before the rainy season cuts off access to many areas. About 50,000 metric tons of food were moved in March.

In crowded camps throughout the three states of Darfur and across the border in Chad, two million people who have fled their homes rely on food aid to survive.


A woman sheltering in a Darfur camp balances a bowl of beans on her head. This food aid is delivered at increasing risk to WFP truckers. (Photo by Laura Melo courtesy WFP)
It is estimated that a monthly average of 2.3 million people will need food assistance in the Darfurs over 2005, rising to 2.8 million during the rainy season months. There are concerns that a poor harvest in 2004 and rising prices for basic commodities will push numbers even higher.

In February, WFP fed 1.6 million people in Darfur, the highest monthly total since its emergency operation began in April 2004.

WFP has protested about the attacks in the strongest terms, both as WFP, and through the African Union and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Jan Pronk, who has raised the issue with SLA representatives.

"These attacks are completely unconscionable. They create a climate of fear that together with truck seizures pose a real threat to our ability to deliver food to the Darfurs," said Lopes da Silva. "These attacks must stop, and the trucks must be returned - it is as simple as that."

The banditry is part of a deteriorating security situation across Darfur including attacks on humanitarian teams from WFP partner organizations. The Danish Refugee Council has temporarily withdrawn from the Jebel Marra region after two of its aid workers were abducted from a vehicle on March 20. The two were released, but the vehicle is still missing.

In West Darfur, areas to the north of the capital of El-Geneina remain "no go" for United Nations agencies, although security restrictions on some other areas have been lifted.

On March 11, WFP staff and other UN and nongovernmental organization personnel were pulled back to the state capital, following three days of attacks by armed bandits on clearly marked humanitarian vehicles. The attacks and the impact on relief operations have been raised with local authorities in West Darfur.

"We are doing everything we can to get food to those who need it," said Lopes da Silva. "But banditry, conflict and insecurity make this an uphill battle."

Today, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to transmit to the International Criminal Court (ICC) a sealed list of 51 names of people blamed for war crimes and crimes under international law in the conflict between the Sudanese Government, allied militia and rebels in the Darfur region.

The handing of the list to ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo at UN Headquarters in New York follows Thursday's Security Council's vote to refer the matter to the tribunal as recommended by the UN appointed International Commission of Inquiry into whether genocide had occurred in the fighting.


In Kalma camp in South Darfur, a displaced mother feeds her son with food delivered by the WFP. (Photo by Laura Melo courtesy WFP)
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than two million others driven from their homes since rebels took up arms in early 2003, partly in protest at the distribution of economic resources.

In its report, the five-member Commission found that while the Sudanese government had not pursued a policy of genocide, government forces and militias "conducted indiscriminate attacks, including killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and forced displacement."

It also said there was credible evidence that rebel forces were responsible for possible war crimes, including murder of civilians and pillage, although it did not find a systematic or a widespread pattern.

The conclusion that no genocidal policy had been pursued should not be taken in any way as detracting from the gravity of the crimes perpetrated, the Commission said.

"International offenses such as the crimes against humanity and war crimes that have been committed in Darfur may be no less serious and heinous than genocide," said the Commission. But the element of genocidal intent appears to be missing, at least as far as the central government authorities are concerned.

Regardless of events in New York, on the roads of Darfur dangers are unabated for World Food Programme contracted truck drivers who risk their lives to deliver the supplies that keep refugees alive. Their help is needed now more than ever as a poor cereal harvest and high prices of basic staples put an increasing number of people at risk of starvation.

“We are dispatching assessment teams to the worst-hit areas to find out by mid April how many more people need food aid in the months ahead,” said Lopes da Silva.

“But so far, WFP doesn’t have enough food to provide for the 5.5 million people who need assistance in 2005 in the east, transitional areas, the south and Darfur. If the numbers continue to rise, Sudan will face a new catastrophe unless more food gets here fast.”