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Sudan: clashes etc force UN to slash refugee opes

Sudan: clashes, banditry force UN to slash operations for refugees in Darfur

Blocked by deteriorating security from delivering much needed aid to more than a million victims of Sudan’s vicious three-year-old conflict in the western Darfur provinces, the United Nations refugee agency today announced a 44 per cent reduction in its 2006 programme budget for the region.

In a revised appeal cutting the amount from $33 million to $18.5 million, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that the steady erosion of security had forced it to downsize its operations and relocate staff. The movements of those remaining are now severely limited in a region where fighting between Government forces, pro-government militias and rebels has killed some 180,000 people and displaced 2 million others over the past three years.

“Armed clashes, banditry and attacks targeting civilians, including internally displaced people, continue to occur with increasing frequency,” the appeal said. “Humanitarian convoys are also targeted. Access to a large part of West Darfur is now restricted.

The agency said its work in the region is “extremely difficult when direct access to beneficiaries is limited” and blamed lack of security and confidence in the Sudanese Government as the main obstacles for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees to return to their villages.

Despite a ceasefire signed in April 2004 and two peace protocols in November of that year, the crisis continues unabated. There are currently more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees in 12 UNHCR-run camps in neighbouring Chad, and more than 1.7 million persons internally displaced within Darfur itself, 657,000 of them in West Darfur where UNHCR has concentrated its work.

The security situation remains volatile despite peace talks in Abuja and the deployment of over 7,000 African Union troops, the appeal says, warning that a recent military build-up on either side of the Sudan-Chad border is “further escalating tensions and increasing the risk of open conflict.”

New arrivals of Chadian asylum seekers, together with Sudanese displaced, have recently been reported at Galu and Azaza in West Darfur, near the border, according to UNHCR, which is assessing the situation.

Meanwhile, the agency issued a $65.8 million supplementary appeal today for its programmes in southern Sudan, where a peace accord ended a separate conflict last year, as well as in Khartoum and Kassala states. Secretary-General’s Kofi Annan’s Special Representative for Sudan Jan Pronk was in Paris today to attend a World Bank meeting on aid to Sudan.

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