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Six killed in fresh Darfur violence

Six people have been killed and twelve injured in fresh clashes in Sudan's troubled western region, Darfur. It is the latest of the enduring difficulties facing Darfur, despite the presence of over 22,000 peacekeepers.

Sudanese state news agency SUNA said that six died during three days of clashes between residents of the North Darfur town of Mellit ending late Thursday. The police and army had restored order, it said, without providing further details.

The violence, just two weeks after four people were killed and six injured when gunmen clashed with government forces in another part of North Darfur, comes amid fresh questions over the effect international aid has had on the impoverished, oft-troubled Sahel region. More than four years after a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force arrived, some are questioning the mission's value as peace remains elusive.

News agency Agence France Presse quoted one analyst as saying that the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the world's largest peacekeeping operation, was too focused on protecting themselves rather than helping others. The analyst asked not to be named.

Other critics say the force is too close to the Sudanese government and not aggressive enough in serving its core mandate of protecting civilians. Their concern comes as Darfur suffers a renewed increase in violence.

More than 700 people have been killed so far this year in a variety of violent incidents, ranging from clashes between rebels and government troops to tribal unrest and criminal incidents, according to UNAMID statistics. That number already eclipses the total number of deaths in 2011.

Still, these figures represent a massive improvement over the height of the conflict in Darfur that escalated into open warfare in 2003. While difficulties endure in the troubed region, the UN's 2011 figures pale in comparison to its estimate of 300,000 killed in Darfur since the war broke out.

According to the UNAMID force commander, Rwandan Lieutenant General Patrick Nyamvumba, the situation in Darfur would be worse without UNAMID's roughly 16,700 troops and additional police officers. He said there has been a "drastic decrease" in the number of people killed.

"The mere presence of us on the ground flying the flag is a substantial deterrent," Nyamvumba told AFP.

Nyamvumba added that the fact that 38 UNAMID peacekeepers have been killed in hostile action shows they are doing their job.

"I think the mission has accomplished quite a lot," said Nyamvumba.

"They are doing nothing"

Although the UN estimates that about 178,000 Sudanese refugees had returned to the country between January 2011 and March of this year, it estimated that around 1.7 million remain in squalid camps, where disease, arson, shootings and murder are rampant.

A member of the rebel movement Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) - Abdul Wahid, escorts the delivery of 30,000 litres of water delivered by the African Union - United Nations Mission in Darfur's (UNAMID) peacekeeping troops from South Africa, in Forog, some 45km (28 miles) north of Kutum March 28, 2012.

The Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) is one of several rebel groups

Some argue the UNAMID force is no longer playing a positive role.

"In fact, they are doing nothing," a Darfur humanitarian source old AFP, asking for anonymity. "They are just providing transport."

The source went on to say that UNAMID had become "part of the problem" in Darfur, and charged it as being "very close" to the Khartoum government.

Swiss-based research group Small Arms Survey said the UNAMID force was perceived by some Sudanese to be close to Khartoum. The researchers said there are "widely held suspicions by Darfuris within and outside Darfur that UNAMID is biased towards the government."

In a July report, the group alleged that in several cases "abuses against civilians, looting, and burning of property occurred in the immediate vicinity of UNAMID positions."

Nyamvumba denied the claims, countering that UNAMID is "committed to being impartial."

"When you deploy a mission of this kind, it comes with a lot of expectations," Nyamvumba said. "What I can assure you is we do what it takes, and what we can, to assure that the mission accomplishes its mandate."

Since 2003, the UN estimates that at least 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur. The Sudanese government claims the number is closer to 10,000.

The Sudanese government signed a Qatar-brokered peace deal with several Darfur rebel groups last year, but other rebel groups have refused to join the agreement.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in 2009 and issued an arrest warrant for Defense Minister Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein for alleged war crimes committed in Darfur. Al-Bashir is the world's first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC. He remains in office in Sudan.

bm/msh (AFP, Reuters)