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W Darfur: Aid Worker Access To Victims Of Violence

Aid workers must have full access to victims of violence in West Darfur - UN

3 March 2008 - United Nations officials in Sudan are calling on all parties to the recent surge in violence in West Darfur to grant aid workers unhindered access to victims caught up in the deadly clashes in the already war-wracked region.

"We must have guarantees from all sides of unimpeded access to affected areas now," UN Humanitarian Coordinator Ameerah Haq told a press conference in Khartoum today. Her call was echoed by local representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Ms. Haq, who is also the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sudan, stressed it was particularly important that aid workers have access to the Jebel Moun area of West Darfur - which Sudanese national security forces have granted but the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has denied.

Up to 58,000 people in West Darfur remain affected by the recent spike in fighting, according to the latest UN estimates, with whole communities forced to flee after attacks on a string of villages north of the state capital, El Geneina. Dozens of civilians have died and many more were injured.

Two inter-agency assessment teams visited the affected area, finding that in the towns of Sirba and Sileah many homes were burned and health clinics, schools, water systems and aid agency compounds had been either looted or destroyed.

"The impact on communities is devastating," Ms. Haq said. "The United Nations in Sudan seeks strong assurances that civilians and their communities will be protected from such indiscriminate attacks. These civilians have a right to protection."

The priorities for aid agencies include food, medical supplies, plastic sheeting and blankets, she added, noting that it was also vital to restore and treat water supplies.

UN agencies are especially concerned about the impact of the fighting on women and children, with many children becoming separated from their families or otherwise remaining unaccounted for.

Ted Chaiban, a representative of UNICEF, told reporters that it was not yet clear how many children had been separated because many had fled from their schools during the attacks. None of the parties to the conflict had taken steps to prevent the use of child soldiers, he added.

Across Darfur's three states, more than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2.2 million others injured since 2003 because of fighting between rebels and Government forces backed by allied militia known as the Janjaweed.

Since the start of this year the hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping mission known as UNAMID has been deployed in Darfur in a bid to quell the suffering and violence.

ENDS

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