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Outlook In Darfur, Sudan, Remains Bleak

Outlook In Darfur, Sudan, Remains Bleak Despite Some Gains, UN Relief Official Warns

Despite improved living conditions inside the massive camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), the outlook for Sudan's war-torn Darfur region remains bleak overall and as many as four million people could need emergency food assistance by the middle of the year, a senior United Nations humanitarian official warned today.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland, briefing journalists at UN Headquarters n New York after returning from a five-day visit to Sudan, also urged the African Union to commit more monitors to Darfur as quickly as possible to protect the region's civilian population.

Mr. Egeland said the AU mission has been "a tremendous success where it is and where they have deployed," but that only 2,000 troops are in place across a region equivalent in size to France - almost a year after the AU and the UN agreed that many more monitors should be operating in Darfur.

If a greater force was deployed, then "the killings would definitely go down dramatically and immediately and so would gender-based violence and other atrocities…many countries could give more forces," he said.

Many tens of thousands of Sudanese have either been murdered or died from starvation and preventable diseases such as diarrhoea or pneumonia since rebel groups took up arms against Government forces and allied militias in early 2003.

Mr. Egeland said that the killings and the systematic rape and abuse of women are continuing outside the "relatively safe" makeshift camps set up by aid workers to house Darfur's population of more than 1.8 million IDPs.

But the fact that the camps are still swelling in size - the camp at Kalma in South Darfur, for example, is thought to be home to about 120,000 people - indicates that locals believe they are much safer there.

Noting the improved health and educational facilities in the camps, as well as the estimated 10,000 aid workers from the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating across the region, Mr. Egeland criticized the "myth still continuing that nobody is doing anything in Darfur. Nothing could be further away from the truth. This is not Rwanda."

Yet unless leaders of the Sudanese Government and the rebels, whom he met during his visit to Sudan earlier this week, agree to stop their fighting soon, the mass suffering will continue.

The ongoing conflict means almost no one in Darfur is working the land, nomads and cattle herders have had to halt their livelihoods, and a growing number of people need food aid.

The head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said between three and four million Sudanese in Darfur therefore could need food relief by the middle of the year.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sudan Jan Pronk has returned from the Eritrean capital Asmara after meeting leaders of Darfur's rebel groups and Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki.

Although no date for the resumption of peace talks were mentioned, the UN Advance Mission in Sudan (UNAMIS) today described the meetings as fruitful and said no obstacles to the talks' resumption were raised.

In other developments, Mr. Egeland said he remains deeply concerned by the lack of international aid being given to the rehabilitation and redevelopment of southern Sudan, where the long-running civil war officially ended in January.

The acting UN High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin made a similar call for increased aid last month. Just 5 per cent of the $563 million required to rebuild southern Sudan has been received so far, according to Mr. Egeland.

The OCHA chief - who also visited the south during his visit - said too many international donors "are sitting on the fence and that is playing poker with the peace effort in Sudan," jeopardizing the chances of success of the recently signed peace agreement.

He urged donors to begin funding immediately, ahead of the expected May or June start of the annual rainy season there, when most road transport becomes impossible.

"$1 received today is worth twice as much as $1 received in June because that would be a period where we are largely paralyzed and we have to do food drops from the air instead of trucking them inside southern Sudan."

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