Aid workers are gradually returning to Tawila, the town in Sudan's North Darfur region where rebels launched an attack last week in violation of ceasefire accords signed with the Government, the United Nations said today.
The workers reported that between 2,000 and 3,000 people displaced by the ensuing fighting had returned to the town. The remainder of the 40,000-strong population is reported to have fled to villages within a 15 to 20 kilometre radius.
Last week the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that 300,000 displaced people had been cut off from all aid following the rebel attack, the latest fighting in the vast Darfur region in what the world body has termed the world's worst current humanitarian crisis.
Nearly 1.7 million people have been displaced in an area the size of France where Janjaweed militias stand accused of killing and raping thousands of villagers after the rebels took up arms last year to demand a greater share of economic resources.
The Government and the two rebel groups - the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - are set to resume the next phase of peace talks next week in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.
This so-called Abuja III round will discuss political, social and economic aspects of the conflict. The UN mission will take part as an observer to support mediation by the African Union (AU). It was the earlier Abuja humanitarian and security accords that the UN accused the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) of violating when it seized Tawila.
Meanwhile Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, fresh from a Geneva meeting launching a $1.5 billion appeal to aid Africa's largest country for 2005, is headed to Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss the establishment of a trust fund to support development efforts, including in southern Sudan.
Prospects of peace between the Government and rebels in the south after two decades of war could herald a flood of returning refugees.