A large army-backed militia force is carrying out attacks on the West Darfur towns of Sirba and Abu Suruj. Janjawid militia on horses and in vehicles, supported by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), began their attack on the two towns on Friday morning.
According to reports from people living in the area, nine military aeroplanes from the SAF were seen overhead, described as being two MIG, two Antonov and five helicopters. The attacks started at 10am and were continuing at sunset.
The number of civilians in Sirba and Abu Suruj has grown due to an influx of internally displaced people who have fled there after earlier attacks elsewhere. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), an armed group in Darfur opposing the Government of Sudan, seized control of the area in December 2007. It remains unclear whether JEM fighters are still in the area.
JEM fighters often station themselves within civilian areas. Attacks by Janjawid and SAF almost invariably fail to discriminate between civilian and armed groups. On 24 January, Janjawid and SAF forces carried out an indiscriminate attack on the town of Saraf Jidad near Abu Suruj. Some 24 people, mostly farmers, including the Fursha (chief) of the area, were killed in the attack.
This attack is a major test for African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), which took over from the African Union Mission in Sudan on 31 December 2007 with a mandate to protect civilians in Darfur.
Amnesty International has called on UNAMID to act immediately to ensure the safety of all civilians in the area of Sirba and Abu Suruj.
"The Security Council, which is scheduled to debate UNAMID on Friday, should call on the government of Sudan to comply with international humanitarian law and ensure that civilians are protected at all times and call on JEM not to endanger civilians by stationing armed men within civilian areas," said Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Programme Director for Africa at Amnesty International.