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US slams Sudan for barring UN official from Darfur

Written by: Staff

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 5 (Reuters) The United States criticized Sudan for barring a senior UN official from visiting its troubled Darfur region but some Security Council members declined to join Washington in a strong statement condemning Khartoum's action.

''It's just more government of Sudan stonewalling,'' US envoy Jackie Sanders told reporters yesterday. ''Sudan needs to cooperate more, particularly on humanitarian aid.'' Sanders said she had pushed for a tough council statement after Khartoum on Monday refused to let UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland go to Darfur to assess the humanitarian situation.

Sudan the next day blocked Egeland from flying over Sudanese territory to visit neighboring Chad.

But diplomats said Russia, China and Qatar called for a more general statement focusing on the humanitarian situation in Darfur rather than on Egeland. Absent their objections, most other members, including Britain, would have agreed to the phrasing suggested by Washington, the envoys reported.

The council also endorsed a statement by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan voicing ''regrets'' that Sudan would not let Egeland visit either Darfur or Khartoum. Annan said he intended to speak to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir about the matter.

''The pressing and urgent humanitarian requirements of Darfur are a priority for the United Nations and coordination efforts to sustain this large program were at the center of Mr Egeland's visit,'' Annan's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said.

Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya, the council president for April, said all 15 council members shared Annan's concerns but for now wanted mainly to ''express their concerns about the humanitarian situation in Darfur.'' The council also planned to ask Egeland for a briefing on what happened in Sudan upon his return to New York and might have something further to say at that time, Wang added.

Egeland told reporters the ban reflected deteriorating relations between the United Nations and the government over deployment of a possible UN peacekeeping force in Darfur.

An African Union peacekeeping force of some 7,000 troops is now in Darfur, seeking to protect villagers from marauding Arab militias that the United Nations and the United States say are armed by Khartoum -- an accusation the government denies.

But the AU force has proven too small to end the violence, prompting Annan and most council members to call for its replacement by a bigger and better-equipped UN force.

Khartoum, however, has not agreed to UN troops in Darfur and diplomats said the African Union was considering a joint force rather than putting its troops under UN command.

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