By United Nations

23 January - The joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission has stepped up its presence in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in North Darfur, after Government forces carried out an extensive search operation early Sunday without notifying or consulting the mission first.

The reasons given for the search, which occurred at 6 a.m. local time in the Zam Zam camp located on the outskirts of El Fasher, were to “search for and arrest criminal elements, seize weapons and confiscate illegal substances,” according to a news release issued by the mission (UNAMID).

About 100 vehicles were used by a combined Sudanese military/police force to cordon off the camp in the operation, which the Government said resulted in the arrest of 37 individuals, the impounding of 10 4x4 vehicles, the seizure of three assault rifle magazines, unspecified quantities of ammunitions, and suspected stolen goods and illegal substances.

UNAMID said its senior leadership contacted Government security officials and the Wali, or Governor, of North Darfur to urgently address the matter, since the operation did not abide by an agreement between the mission and the Government which requires notification and consultations prior to any actions regarding IDP camps. Authorities did not inform UNAMID of their plans until nearly three hours after they were set in motion.

The UN-AU Joint Special Representative and head of UNAMID, Ibrahim Gambari, called on the authorities to act with the utmost restraint, particularly with regard to the use of force, and ensure that no one is harmed.

He also instructed the mission to quickly dispatch an integrated team of its civilian, police and military personnel, joined by an inter-agency assessment group led by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to the camp to ensure that the safety and the rights of the community were respected.

“The teams reported that, although the atmosphere was tense and the IDPs apprehensive, no shots were fired and no violence, harassment or destruction/theft of property took place,” the mission reported.

UNAMID has strengthened the presence of its police in the camp, and will follow up and monitor the situation, including the status of those arrested.

The protection of civilians is at the heart of the mandate of UNAMID, which has been working since 2008 in the strife-torn Sudanese region where nearly seven years of fighting between the Government, its militia supporters and rebel groups has killed at least 300,000 people and driven 2.7 million others from their homes.