Battle at Darfur camp kills dozens, refugees say
KHARTOUM, Sudan - Sudanese government forces attacked one of Darfur's largest refugee camps at dawn yesterday, killing dozens of civilians, according to rebels and a witness in the camp.
Sudan's military acknowledged the raid but said soldiers had been searching for smuggled weapons.
The United Nations said it was "gravely concerned" about the situation inside the Kalma camp in southern Darfur after it received reports that Sudanese police vehicles surrounded it and subsequent attacks caused "injuries and deaths of civilians."
The United Nations did not provide a death toll. But a resident of the camp, Mandela Abdullah Mohammed, told the Associated Press by phone that he counted 32 dead, including several women and children.
More than 50 vehicles "packed with armed men wearing police and security forces' uniforms . . . hit us with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns," Mohammed said.
But a military spokesman said government troops were fired on first.
"They were surprised by heavy gunfire from within the camp. There was an exchange of fire and a number of victims," said spokesman Sawarmy Khaled, without elaborating. He said the fighting had stopped by last night.
The assault came as Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, faces genocide charges for alleged government-backed attacks on ethnic Africans in the country's troubled western region. As many as 300,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million have been displaced since a rebellion began in Darfur in 2003.
The International Criminal Court is expected to decide within months whether to issue a warrant for Bashir's arrest.
Kalma, about 15 miles from the South Darfur capital of Nyala, holds about 90,000 residents.
Sudanese soldiers stormed the camp, a sprawling mix of mud huts and scrap-plastic tents, and immediately opened fire on civilians, said Nimr Abdel-Rahman, spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Army, a Darfur rebel group.
He told AP by telephone from Darfur that 45 people were killed and 135 wounded. He was about 30 miles from Kalma but said the information came from witnesses and aid workers.
"If government forces carry out more attacks against our people, the SLA is ready to confront and retaliate," Abdel-Rahman said.