GEREIDA, 2 March (IRIN) - The perimeter of Gereida town in South Darfur is rapidly expanding outward, with row after row of makeshift shelters filling the plains adjacent to the town.
The general security situation around Gereida has deteriorated rapidly due to clashes between the Fallata and the Massalit, and has drawn in other communities as well. It has led to casualties and displacement of civilians in more than 20 villages surrounding the town.
displaced 15,000 people
By early February, the figure had risen to 80,000. At the end of that month, the African Union (AU) announced that Gereida was home to nearly 90,000 IDPs, one of the largest concentrations in Darfur.
. The Sudanese government reportedly armed Fallata and other Arab militia to fight the Massalit, who are accused of supporting the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA). The rebel movement, too, has violated the ceasefire, having moved troops into Gereida in March 2005, despite a November 2004 agreement to demilitarise the town.
"We are here to protect the citizens, on the invitation of the people of Gereida," said Col Mubarrak Hamed Ali, SLA commander of Gereida, on 25 February. "Without the SLA, Gereida would already have been turned into ashes."
Jan Pronk, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Sudan, has called on the international community to strengthen its ability to protect civilians in Darfur and place greater emphasis on interethnic reconciliation.
An observer noted that there was no evidence of the militia engaging with the SLA directly. Rather, they targeted civilian locations with the apparent intention to destroy the villages of perceived rebel supporters.
"I know how many women and children have been killed. That is ethnic cleansing, and it should stop," Pronk declared.