United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The Sudanese military sought to intimidate villagers in Darfur to keep quiet allegations of mass rape of more than 200 women and girls by Khartoum's soldiers, according to a UN internal report.
The report by the joint UN-AU mission in Darfur suggests that a visit by a team of monitors to the village of Tabit was carefully prepared by the Sudanese military to prevent witnesses from coming forward.
During the team visit, there was a heavy presence of Sudanese soldiers who followed the monitors and recorded interviews with the villagers, according to the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) report obtained by AFP.
"The behavior and responses of interviewees indicated an environment of fear and intimidation," said the report on the Sunday visit.
"Some of the sub-teams had to ask the military personnel to stop following them and also asked them to allow the conduction of interviews in some privacy," it added.
The report quoted a villager in Tabit who said the soldiers had told the community "not to provide information to UNAMID" and that "reportedly a committee was formed to interact" with the fact-finding mission.
Local news station Radio Dabanga had reported that Sudanese soldiers raped more than 200 women and girls at Tabit on October 31, 80 of whom were students.
A first team of UNAMID monitors was sent to Tabit on November 4, but were denied access by the Sudanese military.
Upon arriving at the village five days later, the team found few residents on site and were told that many had left to tend to their fields.
While most of the villagers interviewed denied that there had been a rape, some witnesses spoke of about 15 "illegitimate pregnancies" in the town, the report said.
The United Nations said this week that the team had found no evidence that Sudanese troops had raped the women and girls in Darfur, where insurgents are battling government forces.
But the UN envoy on sexual violence, Zainab Hawa Bengura, told the Security Council that the heavy military presence during the interviews raised concerns that a "wall of silence was created" to prevent witnesses or victims from speaking out.
UNAMID said it planned to follow up the visit with "possible further investigations and patrols" in the area.
The Sudanese army said on Sunday that the media reports were "unjustified and unreasonable."
UNAMID deployed to Darfur in 2007 to protect civilians and secure humanitarian aid. Last month an investigation by the UN criticized the mission for under-reporting crimes in the region.
More than 300,000 people have been killed in some 11 years of conflict in the region, with another two million displaced, according to the UN.