Khartoum – Serious human rights abuses have risen in the last six months in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, with a surge in deadly government-led attacks on populated areas, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
"Since December 2010, a surge in government-led attacks on populated areas and a campaign of aerial bombing have killed and injured scores of civilians, destroyed property, and displaced more than 70,000 people, largely from ethnic Zaghawa and Fur communities linked to rebel groups," HRW said in a report.
"Government forces continue to violate the laws of war in their military operations against rebel forces with utter impunity.
"In mid-May alone, government airstrikes in north and south Darfur reportedly killed more than 20 civilians," the New York-based rights watchdog said in its 28-page report.
"With only a month before Sudan splits in two, international pressure to end ongoing government abuses and impunity for war crimes in Darfur is more urgent than ever," said HRW's Africa director Daniel Bekele.
Darfur has witnessed a significant decline in violence in recent years, since non-Arab rebels first rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime in 2003.
But in December, rebel leader Minni Minnawi took up arms against the government for failing to implement a 2006 peace accord he signed with them
in Abuja, and periodic heavy fighting with the army resumed.
Minnawi's branch of the Sudan Liberation Army has since fought alongside the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the SLA faction of Abdelwahid Nur.
A five-day Darfur stakeholders conference, held in the Qatari capital Doha, ended last week with the adoption of a framework document for peace in Sudan's troubled western region.
But while the JEM, the most-heavily armed Darfur rebel group, welcomed the document as a basis for future peace negotiations with Khartoum, neither of the the other two key rebel movements attended the conference.
At least 300,000 people have been killed in the eight-year conflict and 1.8 million people forced to flee their homes, the United Nations says, while the government puts the death toll at 10,000.
In addition to the clashes between the army and the rebels, the HRW report also documented alleged attacks by government security forces on the camps of those displaced by the conflict, as well as sexual violence and the suppression of peaceful student demonstrations.
"The full extent of human suffering and scale of human rights abuses is still not known, however, as the government continues to restrict access to much of Darfur by both the peacekeepers and humanitarian aid organisations," the group said.