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Sudan bans flight, UN official drops Chad trip

Written by: Staff
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RUMBEK, Sudan, Apr 4 (Reuters) A senior UN official abandoned plans to visit Sudanese refugees in Chad today because the Sudanese government denied him permission to fly over the troubled western region of Darfur, UN officials said.

Jan Egeland, the UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, will fly from the south Sudanese town of Rumbek to Lokichoggio in northern Kenya after failing to persuade Khartoum to change its mind about the flight to Chad, they said.

Sudanese authorities have already prevented Egeland from visiting Darfur and the capital Khartoum.

Egeland told reporters the bans reflect deteriorating relations between the United Nations and the government over the deployment of a possible UN peace force in Darfur.

''One of the biggest and most effective humanitarian operations on earth ... is in Darfur. In 2006 it is changing dramatically for the worse and I think that is the background for why I was blocked again this year from going,'' he said.

He said the government did not want him in Darfur because the situation there was as bad as it was in 2004, at the height of conflict between mainly non-Arab Darfuri rebels and government forces backed by militia auxiliaries.

Two million Darfuris have abandoned their homes and tens of thousands have been killed in the conflict. Egeland is in charge of UN humanitarian relief for the displaced, many of whom have been living in squalid camps for the past two years.

He said that in the rebel-held Darfur district of Gereida in recent months 90 villages have been attacked and more than 200,000 people have had to leave their homes.

The rebels began the fighting but the Janjaweed militia had reacted massively by attacking civilians, he added.

MUSLIM HOLIDAY The rebels say the Sudanese government have organised and armed the Janjaweed. The government says it has mobilised some auxiliaries but the Janjaweed are outside its control.

The Sudanese foreign ministry said Egeland could not travel because it was a Muslim holiday but Egeland said they knew this weeks ago when they cleared his visa.

He said the government was permanently expelling the Norwegian Refugee Council, who has been running the Kalam camp in South Darfur after months of disagreements. Kalam, with more than 100,000 people, is the largest camp in the region.

Asked why relations between the government and the United Nations appeared to have deteriorated again after an improvement in 2005, he said: ''it is a vicious circle of now hardliners wanting to reestablish themselves in the context also of the discussion of a possible UN mission in Darfur.'' The United States has been pressing a plan to convert the African Union peace force in Darfur into a UN force -- an idea opposed by the Sudanese government.

Egeland said a UN mission was necessary because the 7,000-strong African Union force was not sufficiently mobile or equipped to protect the civilian population in Darfur.

''My message to the government is 'Help us help your people.' Don't obstruct us,'' he added.

Sudanese Vice-President Salva Kiir, a former southern rebel who joined a national unity government in Khartoum last year, told reporters in Rumbek that obstructing Egeland was not his understanding of government policy. ''We do not have a problem with the United Nations,'' he added.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who opposes bringing in a UN force, arrived in Khartoum today for a brief visit, said Egyptian state news agency MENA.

Mubarak sent his prime minister to last week's Arab summit in Khartoum, disappointing the Sudanese hosts, who had hoped for a good turnout as a show of solidarity on Darfur.

Arab satellite television channels showed Mubarak with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

REUTERS VJ BS1809

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