UN expert urges investigation of recent attacks on civilians in northern Darfur

GENEVA (AP) — A government-backed militia is suspected of killing 37 people and wounding more than 50 in a marketplace in North Darfur, the latest sign of unrest is growing in the Sudanese region, a U.N. human rights expert said Tuesday.

New evidence gathered over the past 10 days appears to confirm that the attack was carried out on Sept. 2 while people were gathered in a marketplace in the village of Tabarat, said Mohamed Chande Othman, a Tanzanian judge appointed to serve as an independent expert on Sudan's violence for the U.N. Human Rights Council, based in Geneva.

Violence had been subsiding in Darfur, but Chande Othman described the killings as another sign unrest is on the upswing since President Omar al-Bashir won another five-year term in April elections. The international criminal court in The Hague has charged him with war crimes and genocide in Darfur.

"I am deeply disturbed about these killings, which highlight the continuing deterioration of the situation in Darfur," Chande Othman said. Sudan's government must carry out "as a matter of urgency a thorough and transparent investigation into the attack on civilians in North Darfur."

Several witnesses identified the attackers as Arab militias known as janjaweed, who are said to be allied with Khartoum and responsible for widespread atrocities against ethnic African civilians, he said.

Sudanese armed forces and rebel fighters had initially blocked U.N.-African Union peacekeepers from reaching the village in Sudan's restive Darfur region, he said. There was no immediate government comment on the incident.

Chande Othman was appointed an independent expert by the Human Rights Council last October. He serves as a judge in Tanzania's court of appeals and has been chief prosecutor for the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Elswhere in Sudan, clashes between different groups in the Hamidia refugee camp in recent weeks in West Darfur left six people dead, the UNAMID peaceekeeping mission said, but it was not immediately clear what sparked the violence.

The U.N. Security Council is calling for the demilitarization of the camps in Darfur, which serve as a temporary home to hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

Fighting in Darfur has left up to 300,000 people dead and forced 2.7 million to flee their homes, since a 2003 rebellion by groups who accused the government of neglecting the vast desert region. U.N. officials say they now worry about weapons and armed groups inside the refugee camps.

In the North-South civil war in Sudan more than 2 million people died. The war ended in 2005 with the signing of a peace accord that promised a southern referendum in 2011, which could split Africa's largest country in two.