British aid group Oxfam closes down its operation in Darfur's largest refugee camp

The British aid group Oxfam permanently stopped its operation in Darfur's largest refugee camp because of insecurity.

With some 130,000 refugees, the South Darfur camp of Gereida is among the largest in the world. The compounds of several aid groups in the camp were attacked in a raid last December during which a female French aid worker was raped and several others endured mock executions while some Sudanese aid workers were severely beaten up.

Oxfam said it had scaled down operations in the camp since, and was now pulling out of the zone because security was not improving.

"The humanitarian need in Gereida remains enormous," said Caroline Nursey, Oxfam's Sudan Program Manager. "It is with great regret that our security concerns have not been addressed, leaving us with no choice but to relocate our programmes elsewhere," she said in a statement.

Gereida is in a zone controlled by former rebel leader Minni Minawi's Sudan Liberation Movement, the only Darfur faction that signed a peace agreement with the Sudanese government in May 2006.

Oxfam criticized local SLM commanders in Gereida for their "lack of action to improve security in the area and address violence against aid workers," since the attack last December.

The British aid group has a staff of 300 in Darfur, including 25 international aid workers, said Alun McDonald, the group's spokesman in Sudan.

Oxfam is one of the largest international aid groups in the wartorn western Sudan region where 200,000 people have been killed and 2,5 million chased from their homes since 2003, when regional rebels took arms against the central Sudanese government.

Violence has only worsened in Darfur since the 2006 peace deal, and there has recently been an increase of accusations against Minawi's men, including by the African Union mission deployed in the region.

Khartoum resisted for months a U.N. plan to replace the overwhelmed AU force with United Nations peacekeepers. But UN diplomats confirmed Sunday in Khartoum that Sudan's president now unconditionally agreed to a hybrid operation of UN and AU troops to deploy.

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