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Sudan tightens foreign press travel to Darfur

Written by: Staff
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KHARTOUM, May 18 (Reuters) Sudan has tightened restrictions on foreign press travelling to Darfur and has not issued any travel permits to its violent western region since a peace deal was signed earlier this month.

Experts who have watched Darfur since the conflict erupted in early 2003 say this is the most restrictive the government has been on access since the height of the conflict in 2004.

UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland called on the government to allow press access to Darfur especially as donors have been slow to respond to the crisis this year, forcing food rations to be halved in May.

''It is vital for journalists to be given full access to Darfur ... to cover the humanitarian work and explain the urgent need for additional international support,'' he said.

During the height of the Darfur conflict, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced 2 million people from their homes, journalists were made to wait weeks in Khartoum for travel permits to the remote west.

In 2003 and early 2004 many resorted to sneaking across the porous border with Chad to expose the misery of the people suffering what the United Nations called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

But the government eased access to Darfur and began issuing travel permits within two to three days for visiting journalists and even less time for resident correspondents.

Since early May, however, when a peace agreement was signed in Abuja, Nigeria, no travel permits have been issued, said an official at the External Affairs Council responsible for foreign press. He did not know why.

MORE REUTERS PR RK1454

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