Ausgabe 36/2008

Interview with German Charity Coordinator for Darfur 'We Were Ambushed'

Masked men ambushed a German aid convoy bound for Darfur on August 19, the second such attack in a month. Johan van der Kamp of the German World Hunger Aid Organization says his charity has ceased deliveries until the area becomes safer.

Sudanese rebel groups regularly attack aid workers, making it all but impossible for them to do their job.

Sudanese rebel groups regularly attack aid workers, making it all but impossible for them to do their job.

Aid workers in Darfur are simply not safe anymore. Working conditions for NGO employees have gone from bad to worse, with armed gangs leading raids and holdups on a regular basis. A total of 10 aid workers were killed and 74 aid compounds attacked between January and July in Darfur, according to the latest figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Heightened danger undercuts groups' ability to provide food and other supplies where it is needed most.

Johan van der Kamp, 46, is the regional coordinator of Welthungerhilfe, the German World Hunger Aid Organization charity, in Khartoum. His group suspended deliveries after the second attack on their aid trucks this month. Van der Kamp talked to SPIEGEL about the worsening situation.

SPIEGEL: You stopped making aid deliveries last Wednesday. Why?

Van der Kamp: For the second time this month, one of our convoys was attacked in northern Darfur on August 19th. A gang ambushed our aid workers. Eight masked men hid behind a rock along a stretch of road that our convoy had to slow down to navigate. The men stopped our four trucks, pulled our people out, threw them on the ground and threatened them. Our employees had to surrender everything they had: money, cell phones, personal belongings -- they even had to undress to give the men their clothing. Then the men drove the aid trucks away.

SPIEGEL: Who did this group of attackers work for?

Van der Kamp: We don't know. They had combat gear on, some wore turbans. They could be ordinary criminals or members of rebel groups. Since splitting into rival factions, the rebels' funding seems less secure. The different groups have to fend for themselves financially, partly by carrying out ambushes.

SPIEGEL: Are the attackers targeting your organization specifically?

Van der Kamp: The Aug. 19th attack was no accident. We think someone informed the bandits about our planned trip. The area the convey drove through is 200 by 300 kilometers, and is home to about 20 local commanders. Our organization has to call them one day in advance of travelling there. They tell us that they have the area under control and that it is safe to drive through, but that is not true anymore. We fear that they pass the information along to people who see us as a target.

SPIEGEL: What will you do now?

Van der Kamp: We will not be carrying out transports as long as the situation is life-threatening for our staff. This decision comes at the worst imaginable time because the people there won't bring in the next harvest until the end of October. We have a list of all the key players in northern Darfur, from rebel commanders to local leaders. Our organization will ask them if they can offer us solutions. If they can't, then it's over -- which would be a catastrophe for the people of Darfur.

Interview conducted by Britta Sandberg


© DER SPIEGEL 36/2008
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