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UN blames Sudan for worsening Darfur crisis

Written by: Staff

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 23: The top UN humanitarian official accused Sudan of deliberately hindering relief aid in Darfur, attacking villages and arming brutal militia to combat rebels and bandits.

Jan Egeland, the emergency relief coordinator, told the UN Security Council that international relief operations were threatened by government obstruction and asked members to talk to Sudanese officials immediately while putting pressure on those sending arms to rebels.

''The next weeks may be make or break for our lifeline to more than 3 million people,'' Egeland said yesterday. ''This period may well be the last opportunity for this council, the government of Sudan, the African Union, the rebels, and all of us to avert a humanitarian disaster of much larger proportions than even the one we so far have witnessed in Darfur.'' Some 4 million people need emergency aid compared to 1 million two years ago. But relief convoys can only reach about 3 million people in their 1 billion dollars aid effort, he said.

Egeland, who will leave his post soon, has just returned from Sudan and has been outspoken about atrocities that have driven 2 million people from their homes in the vast arid Darfur region since the conflict began in early 2003.

'MELTDOWN' Egeland said large parts of Darfur were seeing a ''meltdown of law and order,'' with rebel groups getting new weapons from abroad and across the Chad border and the government arming Arab militias that attack non-Arab villages, raping and killing.

''The failure is one of the government not being willing to protect its own citizens rather than fueling the conflict, of rebels not wanting to join the cease-fire,'' Egeland said.

The proliferation of arms and banditry on roads has taken its toll on the ability to deliver aid.

Compounding the problem is ''the wall of administrative obstacles that the government has slowly but surely rebuilt both in Khartoum and in Darfur,'' Egeland said.

Khartoum has sent troops to several places in the last month. The village of Sirba 10 days ago was under attack by government forces and Arab militia that resulted in the killing and wounding of women and children, Egeland said.

The United Nations, Sudan and the African Union, which has fielded a 7,000-member force agreed in principle in Addis Ababa last week on a beefed-up AU force with extensive UN support.

Diplomats said UN assistance could include financing by the United Nations for more African and Asian troops on the ground, with Western personnel manning air corridors, transport, communications and command centers.

Sudan had previously ruled out a big UN role in Darfur.

But UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Khartoum asked for more time to consider key points before signing off on the plan. These concerned the size of the force and how to appoint a commander and a special representative -- the civilian head of the joint UN-AU mission in Darfur.

''Time is against us,'' Annan told the Security Council.

He said he had spoken with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and hoped for a definitive response from Khartoum in time for a November 29 meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.

Chinese UN Ambassador Wang Guangya, who attended last week's meeting in Addis Ababa, said he had advised the Sudanese delegation that Annan's plan had ''no hidden agenda.'' ''It has good intentions, so therefore I think that we have to work creatively, not to put a strait jacket on ourselves by our former positions,'' he said he told the Sudanese.


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