UN and aid agencies demand greater humanitarian access to Darfur, Sudan

28 June 2004

United Nations agencies, humanitarian organizations and donor countries are holding talks with the Sudanese Government to try to improve access to the troubled Darfur region, where they say there are still too many obstacles and restrictions for aid workers.

Briefing reporters in New York today, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that although there have been significant improvements in recent weeks, there are continuing delays and problems in registering non-government organizations (NGOs) and in clearing equipment and aid supplies from customs.

"Procedures remain bureaucratic and inconsistent and some delays continue to be reported," he said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has noticed a rapid increase in the number of NGOs working in Darfur in recent weeks as international attention focuses on the humanitarian crisis in the impoverished region.

Mr. Dujarric said around 20 NGOs are already operating in Darfur and another 10 are preparing to work there as well.

More than one million people are thought to be internally displaced and at least another 150,000 have become refugees in Chad since fighting broke out early last year between the Sudanese Government and two rebel groups.

Government-allied Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, have also conducted numerous human rights abuses against the region's black Africans, according to two UN human rights reports issued last month. These include killings, rapes and the ransacking and destruction of villages.

Last Friday Secretary-General Kofi Annan - who is visiting Sudan later this week to see the crisis first-hand - said the people of Darfur are "suffering a catastrophe" and described the Janjaweed's activities as "bordering on ethnic cleansing."

As well as discussing obstacles and delays with officials in Khartoum, Mr. Dujarric said UN agencies and NGOs are concerned about the protection of staff and civilians.

Despite an official Sudanese Government request for all arms of government to curb the militias, aid agencies say they have seen no major changes.


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