Refugee protesters kill translator in riot in Darfur

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

NYALA, Sudan -- Darfur refugees rioted Monday and forced the U.N. humanitarian chief to rush from their camp, then later attacked African peacekeepers and killed a translator in a sign of deep tensions in the wartorn region despite a fragile peace deal.

The violence broke out as the U.N.'s Jan Egeland toured Kalma camp, home to some 90,000 displaced people driven from their villages in Darfur. He was met by about 1,000 protesters demanding U.N. peacekeepers be deployed in the region.

The protesters attacked a translator traveling with Egeland after someone in the crowd accused the man of working with the Janjaweed, the feared Arab militia blamed for atrocities against villagers, U.N. spokeswoman Dawn Blalock said.

The translator, who worked for the humanitarian agency Oxfam, escaped uninjured when he was pulled into a U.N. van.

Footage by a CNN correspondent in the same van showed angry protesters reaching into the back of the vehicle trying to grab the translator and drag him out as they hit the van's windows with sticks. The voice of a man crying for help and the sound of breaking glass could be heard.

Protesters also smashed windows in another vehicle in the U.N. convoy as they sped away, Blalock said. Egeland and the rest of the convoy returned safely to the nearby town of Nyala in South Darfur, she said.

About a half-hour later, the crowd attacked unarmed African Union peacekeepers at a nearby compound, killing a Sudanese translator working with the AU and making off with communications equipment from the site, she said. Many Darfurians complain that the 7,000-member AU force -- which is chronically undermanned and undersupplied -- does little to protect them.

Many hope U.N. peacekeepers can do more than the AU force to stabilize Darfur.

British-based Oxfam withdrew its six staffers from Kalma camp after the riots.

The violence underscored the deep strains in Sudan's western Darfur region even after the Sudanese government and the main rebel group in Darfur signed a peace deal on Friday.

Some 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur -- either by violence or by disease and famine -- since ethnic African rebels rose up in early 2003, accusing Sudan's Arab-led government of discrimination.

Another 2 million have been forced from their homes, many by the Janjaweed, an Arab militia accused of killings and rapes in attacks on ethnic African villages. Khartoum denies charges that it backs the militia.

President Bush on Monday praised the peace deal as "the beginnings of hope" for Darfur and called for more U.N. peacekeepers.

"Darfur has a chance to begin anew," he said.

"We're still far away from our ultimate goal, which is the return of millions of displaced people to their homes so they can have a life without fear," Bush added. "But we can now see a way forward."

The U.N.'s chief envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk, warned that the peace deal would not mean an immediate end to fighting even though the government had given orders to various tribal leaders in the field to cease fire.

Some of the warring factions, including parts of the Janjaweed, were not under the government's control, Pronk told a news conference.

Pronk praised the faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army that signed Friday's peace accord and expressed contempt for the rival SLA faction and another rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, both of which rejected the agreement.

"There is now a very clear distinct line between those who have the courage to talk and reach results, and those cowards who only want to fight," Pronk said. "That is the difference -- those who are courageous and those who are cowards."

After months of resisting U.N. peacekeepers, Sudan said over the weekend that the peace deal paves the way for their deployment.

Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, had gone to Kalma to meet leaders of at least 90,000 residents of the camp as well as representatives of the NGOs.

He was met by a huge crowd chanting pro-U.N., pro-U.S. and anti-government slogans, such as "Yes to international troops!" -- a reference to U.N. peacekeepers.

After his arrival in Darfur on Sunday, Egeland warned the peace treaty would not be easy to implement.

"We are now in the center of the war which is still going on," he told AP Television News on Sunday during a visit to another displaced persons camp in Darfur. He added that thousands of people had been displaced by fighting in recent days and the violence could continue.

Associated Press Writers Matt Ford in Cairo, Mohamed Osman in Khartoum, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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