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Dialogue With Sudan Vital To Expediting Assistance

Continuing dialogue with Sudan vital to expediting assistance, says top UN aid official

Wrapping up a four-day visit to Sudan, the top United Nations humanitarian official today stressed the need to maintain a constructive dialogue with the Government to ensure that people affected by the conflict in the country's strife-torn Darfur region get the help they need.

During his mission, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes met with the Government, UN agencies, international and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs), donors and people affected by the conflict in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed in the past four years due to violence. At least 2.2 million others have been displaced and an estimated 4 million now depend on humanitarian aid for survival.

Mr. Holmes, who met with local officials in both northern and southern Darfur, said the Joint Communiqué, signed after his last visit in March, has been useful in addressing the concerns of the humanitarian community working in the region, particularly bureaucratic issues, while noting that some concerns do remain.

"The purpose of my mission was to discuss these issues with the Government and to assess the humanitarian situation on the ground," stated Mr. Holmes, who also serves as UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. "It is important to strengthen trust and confidence, which requires a personal and continuous commitment from me and from many others."

He stressed that while the signing of the Joint Communiqué has been beneficial, important challenges remain in ensuring that humanitarian principles are fully respected and all those in need of assistance receive the help they need.

"I am concerned that displacement is still continuing, even while some people have been able to return," stated Mr. Holmes, who also emphasized the need to continue working to ensure that humanitarian workers are able to operate in a safe and conducive environment, despite problems such as car hijackings, assaults and harassment which have become increasingly common.

The humanitarian chief was given assurances by the Government that there would be no problem with the extension of the 2004 Moratorium on restrictions which enables international NGOs to continue operating in Darfur. He expressed the hope that this would happen soon, noting that the Sudan Workplan 2008 ? requesting $2.2 billion to address humanitarian, recovery and development needs ? will be launched on 11 December, and NGOs are the UN's main implementing partners on the ground.

Concerning returns, Mr. Holmes stated that while it was the aim of all concerned to ensure that internally displaced persons (IDPs) could return to their homes as soon as possible, this could only take place once security improves and basic services are operating. "It is clear that return of IDPs must always be voluntary, participative and to suitable and safe areas accessible by the humanitarian service providers," he said.

Mr. Holmes added that the UN stood ready to provide extra aid if early indications of a potentially poor food harvest in Darfur were confirmed.

He will now travel to Kenya, the last stop on his current three-nation trip which began in Ethiopia.


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