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Violence in Darfur threatens humanitarian aid

Worsening violence in Darfur threatening humanitarian aid – UN relief chief

The level of violence has escalated again sharply and the situation has become dangerous enough in western Sudan's Darfur region that the United Nations relief agencies have temporarily suspended operations in parts of the country, the UN's top relief coordinator said today.

"As we speak, we have had to suspend action in many areas, tens of thousands of people will not get any assistance today because it is too dangerous, and it could grow," Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland told a press briefing in Geneva of the conflict between the Government, allied militias and rebels that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million since 2003.

In the last few days, humanitarian workers have been harassed, attacked, robbed or abducted, civilians are being killed and raped every day with impunity, and truck drivers are now refusing to deliver aid in many areas, he said.

Mr. Egeland warned that if the violence continued to escalate and if it continued to be so dangerous to the 11,000 unarmed humanitarian workers – the vast majority from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – the UN might not be able to sustain their operations providing food, medicine, shelter materials, and creating schools for 2.5 million people requiring assistance.

"My question is, is this a repeat of the so-called safe areas of Bosnia again? We keep people alive, we give them food, we give them medicine, schools, but we do not protect them, or protect our own unarmed staff. Then the massacres happen," he added.

He also said that three times the number of the 5,000-strong African Union (AU) military force would be needed to contain the violence and that political agreement in Abuja, Nigeria, among the competing forces would likely help end the violence. He also called for the "same kind of pressure on the parties that we had last summer when world leaders really put their thumb and their pressure on the Government of Khartoum."

Mr. Egeland also spoke of UN humanitarian reform efforts as part of the overall reform of the world body. By the beginning of next year he expects a relief fund to open that should eventually grow to $500 million, which will allow the UN to respond quickly to humanitarian crises. He also said that the UN was making progress in filling gaps in its own response system, and in taking the lead in response to water, sanitation, shelter and protection needs.

On the subject of Niger, Mr. Egeland said that feeding and therapeutic centres reaching 100,000 children had increased to 400 from 33 last year. He said more than 1 million people were being fed by the UN, but that the hope was for Niger to become self-sufficient. To do so would require another $39 million.

Uganda continues to be an intolerable emergency that is not being dealt with, he added.

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