UN says violence increasing in Darfur camps

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KHARTOUM, Sep 17 (Reuters) Violence is increasing in camps for displaced people in Darfur, where nearly a quarter million people have been displaced so far this year, a UN report said today.

The United Nations said rising violence in the overcrowded camps of the remote region of western Sudan was making it harder to carry out humanitarian aid work to help the thousands of newcomers arriving each week.

''Over 240,000 people have been newly displaced or re-displaced during 2007,'' the UN report said. ''In many IDP (internally displaced people) camps, armed elements are present, and violent incidents are increasing.'' ''During August humanitarian activities had to be suspended in several camps due to insecurity,'' the report added.

More than four years of ethnic and political conflict in Darfur has left 200,000 dead and driven another 2.5 million from their homes, international experts say. Khartoum says that is an exaggeration, and puts the death toll at 9,000.

The central Khartoum government has agreed to hold talks with rebel groups in Libya on October 27 to try to end the violence in Darfur, which pits largely African rebels against mostly Arab militias mobilised to quell a 2003 revolt.

The United Nations said that humanitarian operations had to be suspended due to insecurity in Zalingei Camp in West Darfur for two days this year, while Kalma camp in the south was closed to aid operations for three days.

Since the beginning of the year, the report said, humanitarian workers have been forced to move out on 24 occasions, adversely affecting aid work.

DISEASE SPREAD Heavy rains, which have affected much of Sudan, including Darfur, also brought new problems, the UN report said.

''Worsening sanitary conditions in the IDP camps have led to a spread of waterborne diseases. In some cases, this has been accompanied by worsening malnutrition rates which, although localised, have required and received urgent responses,'' it said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also expressed concern about the growing insecurity.

''The precarious security situation makes it extremely hard to plan and carry out field activities,'' Denise Duran, head of the ICRC's Darfur operation, said in a statement. ''This means that the communities most at risk in rural areas are often reachable only sporadically.'' Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has said he is willing to observe a ceasefire in Darfur from the start of the Libya talks, but fighting has continued since the talks were announced especially around the rebel-held town of Haskanita.

In an effort to encourage peace in Darfur, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he would lead a top-level delegation on a tour of Darfur, in the first mission of a group of international ''Elders'' set up by Nelson Mandela this year.

Tutu said he would visit Khartoum and Darfur with former US President Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela's wife Graca Machel and veteran UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi from September 30 to October 5.

Tutu said: ''We want community leaders in Darfur to feel that they have been heard by us. And to the extent that we could then communicate their aspirations, their longings, particularly the women's groups, we will do so.'' REUTERS SKB VC1858

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