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Sat Jun 25 00:00:56 CAT 2016

Bashir forces accused of mass rape of women

Bloomberg, AFP | 28 January, 2016 00:40
Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Image by: MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH / REUTERS

Sudanese government forces and militias are guilty of mass rape in the western region of Darfur and are using sexual violence as a weapon of war, Human Rights Watch has said.

Sexual violence has emerged as a "major trend" in the North African country in the past 18 months, with pro-government forces killing and raping scores of women, the New York-based rights group said yesterday.

In a town in Darfur's Jebel Marra area in January last year soldiers committed rape while residents were forced to watch, it said. Human Rights Watch also documented the rape of more than 200 women and girls in the North Darfur town of Tabit in October 2014.

"The pattern, scale, and frequency of rape suggests that Sudan's security forces have adopted this sickeningly cruel practice as a weapon of war," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director of Human Rights Watch.

Sudanese army spokesman Ahmed Khalifa did not answer phone-call requests for comment. The military has denied that troops carried out sexual assaults, including those alleged at Tabit.

Insurgents in Darfur took up arms in 2003, accusing President Omar al-Bashir's government of neglecting the region. The International Criminal Court has indicted Bashir for war crimes. The conflict has led to the deaths of as many as 300000 people, mainly due to illness and starvation. About 2.5million people are displaced, according to the UN.

Fighting in the mountainous Jebel Marra, which straddles three states of Darfur, and is said to be a stronghold of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army, has forced as many as 34000 civilians to flee their homes in the past two weeks, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Sudan, Marta Ruedas, said yesterday.

On Monday the UN-African Union mission in the region said clashes between Sudanese forces and rebels in Darfur have forced about 10000 people to flee their homes.

Fighting flared up again last week around Jebel Marra.

"About 8400 civilians, mostly women and children, have taken refuge" in the vicinity of a UN/AU base near the town of Sortoni in North Darfur state, the UN-African Union mission said.

Mission peacekeepers at their base in the town of Nertiti, in Central Darfur state, reported "sporadic heavy artillery gunfire and bombings in the Jebel Marra area" on Saturday.

The peacekeepers said they were trying to verify reports of "people trapped in areas where the combat is continuing".

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