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Darfur: UN humanitarian chief meets Sudanese officials at start of mission

Darfur: UN humanitarian chief meets Sudanese officials at start of mission

John Holmes
The United Nations humanitarian chief held talks today with senior Sudanese Government ministers on the first day of his two-week, three-country mission to tackle the crisis in the war-wracked Darfur region and its threat to neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR).

John Holmes, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, met Sudan’s Foreign Minister Lam Akol, Humanitarian Affairs Minister Kosti Manibe and National Security Minister Salah Gosh in the capital, Khartoum, on the first working day of his trip.

He also met with representatives of UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Sudan, according to a statement released by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Darfur, which has been beset by brutal killings, rapes and other human rights abuses for four years, is the scene of the world’s largest humanitarian assistance programme. But in the past 10 months the number of attacks targeting aid workers has increased and bureaucratic obstacles involving visas, travel permits and customs restrictions have become more frequent.

Mr. Holmes said in the statement that until there is peace in Darfur, all sides to the conflict must do their utmost to ensure that the relief effort proceeds unimpeded.

“I am sure we can resolve these problems in the spirit of constructive partnership,” he said. “We have had some useful discussions about the humanitarian situation in Darfur and I’m looking forward to going to the field and assessing the situation myself.”

More than 2 million people have been forced to flee their homes since Government forces and allied Janjaweed militias began fighting rebel forces in 2003, and the conflict has continued despite the signing of a peace deal by the Government and some of the rebel forces last May. At least 200,000 people have been killed.

Last month the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) named a Sudanese Government minister and a militia commander as the first suspects he wants tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo has concluded there are reasonable grounds to try Ahmad Muhammad Harun, former Sudanese Minister of State for the Interior, and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb, for having “jointly committed crimes against the civilian population in Darfur.”

Mr. Holmes is expected to travel tomorrow to Juba in southern Sudan, where he will meet with Salva Kiir, the First Vice President of Sudan and President of the Government of Southern Sudan, and Riek Machar, Vice President of the Government of Southern Sudan.

He will then return to Khartoum briefly before heading on to the Darfur region on Saturday and Sunday to visit several field locations. Later he will travel to Chad and the CAR.

Mr. Holmes’ mission is taking place as Jan Eliasson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, undertakes a separate trip to Asmara, the Eritrean capital, to discuss how to best coordinate Eritrean mediation efforts in Darfur with those of the UN and the African Union (AU).

Earlier this week Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Affairs Jean-Marie Guéhenno warned journalists that there is still “a long way to go” before the UN and Sudanese Government can resolve their differences over the proposed deployment of a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force.

Mr. Guéhenno told a Security Council meeting that the latest written response from Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s letter detailing the planned force indicated there may be “fundamental strategic differences” over Darfur.

“We still have, unfortunately, a long way to go because there may be some fundamental misunderstandings on what are the expectations of the Government of Sudan and what is on offer,” he told journalists.