The United Nations said Tuesday it is concerned about the fate of 7,000 Sudanese civilians last seen being forced by authorities to leave the protection of a UN compound in the tense border region between the north and south.
North Sudan authorities have denied requests by the global body to meet with the civilians, who are believed to have been taken to the nearby town of Kadugli in South Kordofan province last week, said UN spokeswoman Corinne Momal-Vanian.
"There is no certainty on anything for the moment and the mission is asking for access," she told reporters in Geneva. "Naturally the mission is concerned."
The civilians had featured prominently in UN aid agency reports from Sudan in the days before June 20, the day they were allegedly ordered to leave the UN camp.
An internal UN report obtained by The Associated Press said Sudanese intelligence agents —some posing as Red Crescent workers -- told the civilians to go to Kadugli for an address by the local governor and to receive humanitarian aid. The refugees were threatened with forced removal from the camp if they did not comply.
UN officials in Geneva declined to confirm the report, which was marked "For Internal Use Only."
But the International Federation of the Red Cross, an umbrella group for national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world, said Tuesday it was investigating the report that the agency's emblem was misused.
Reluctant to criticize Sudan
"The IFRC is fully aware about these allegations and while it is a matter of concern we can neither deny nor confirm them since we do not have any teams on the ground in Kadugli," said a spokesman, Paul Conneally. "The IFRC, working closely with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society, is currently taking this matter up with the concerned authorities and will report back on the progress of discussions."
The United Nations has been cautious about criticizing the north Sudanese government for fear of inflaming relations with Khartoum, on whose goodwill it depends for humanitarian access to the western region of Darfur and parts of the south.
With South Sudan due to formally declare independence from the north on July 9, pockets of fighting have broken out between north Sudan government forces and elements of the southern military.
On Monday, the UN Security Council authorized a new 4,200-strong peacekeeping force to be deployed in the oil-rich Abyei region, southwest of Kadugli, after the north demanded the UN disband its original 10,400-strong peacekeeping force in Sudan by July 9.