By Irwin Arieff
UNITED NATIONS, April 18 (Reuters) – Sudanese officials fearful of being tried for war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region may be behind a wave of attacks on international aid workers in the turbulent area, the United Nations said on Monday.
Internal displaced Sudanese sit on a vehicle with their belongings as they travel inside Aboushouk camp in Sudan’s Darfur province April 16, 2005. (Reuters).
Among the rash of attacks in March were three that stood out because they appeared aimed at harming or killing relief workers, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in his monthly report to the Security Council on the situation in Darfur.
A U.N. panel of experts drew up a list of 51 war crimes suspects in Darfur that it sealed and turned over to Annan in January. The Security Council voted March 31 to refer the suspects to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“The possibility cannot be excluded that those who may believe that they are on the commission’s sealed list of war crimes suspects will resort to direct attacks against … international personnel, or will try to destabilize the region more generally through violence,” Annan said.
The U.N. mission in Sudan would continue to closely monitor the situation, he said.
The secretary-general’s latest assessment, like his earlier reports on Darfur, had a gloomy take on the situation.
The fighting rages on between rebel groups and government forces said to be operating jointly with armed Arab militias, and civilians continue to come under attack along with African Union peacekeeping troops and relief workers, he said.
The number of people touched by the conflict rose to 2.45 million last month from 2.4 million in February, 1.86 million people remained in refugee camps in the remote desert region, and food shortages are growing more acute in remote areas, he said.
“The government continues to pursue the military option on the ground with little apparent regard for the commitments it has entered into” to end its attacks and protect civilians, Annan said. “It must be stressed that the only route to peace in Darfur remains a political settlement.”
More than 180,000 people have died in Darfur from hunger and disease over the past year in the conflict the United States has denounced as genocide.
The current crisis began in February 2003 when pastoral rebels took up arms against the government, accusing it of neglect and giving preferential treatment to Arab tribes. The government is accused of mobilizing Arab militia known as Janjaweed to loot and burn non-Arab villages.