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Darfur: UN and African Union envoys meet Arab tribal leaders

Darfur: UN and African Union envoys meet Arab tribal leaders

The United Nations Special Envoy for Darfur and his counterpart from the African Union held talks today with representatives of the war-torn Sudanese region’s Arab tribes and leaders of its civil society groups as part of ongoing efforts to revitalize the peace process and end the bloodshed that has led to the killing of at least 200,000 people since 2003.

Jan Eliasson and the AU’s Salim Ahmed Salim spoke with the Darfur representatives in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, where they have already met this week with senior Government ministers and Opposition leaders, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reported.

The mission said the civil society and Arab tribal leaders told the two envoys their views on how to attain a sustainable settlement of the Darfur problem, where Government forces and allied Janjaweed militias have fought rebel groups since they took up arms, partly in protest over the distribution of resources.

“The process to peace in Darfur has to be encouraged and strengthened, both by goodwill from the parties – the Government and the signatories and non-signatories – but it also has to grow from below,” Mr. Eliasson told a joint press conference today after the talks. “It has to be also a bottom-to-top process.

“And if there is to be a lasting solution to the Darfur problem, we know it has to have popular support among the people of Darfur and amongst the people in Sudan.”

Mr. Eliasson said that while he was encouraged by the positive reactions inside and outside Sudan about the prospects for mobilizing political will to solve the conflict, NGOs operating in the field reported continuing problems of harassment and bureaucracy.

“I can’t even imagine the chaotic situation that could arise if we had a breakdown of that huge humanitarian operation – 13,000 people working for a billion-dollar operation to help millions of people. It is the Darfurian people who will in the end pay the price.”

He also voiced concern over the increasing phenomenon of inter-tribal fighting in Darfur, a deeply impoverished region roughly the size of France on Sudan’s western flank.

On this trip, his second since becoming envoy, Mr. Eliasson also visited Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, as well as the Eritrean capital, Asmara, to discuss that country’s efforts to mediate a solution in Darfur, where more than 2 million people have been forced from their homes and become internally displaced or refugees in neighbouring Chad.

In a related development, the UN’s top humanitarian official arrived in the town of Abeche in eastern Chad this morning on the second leg of his two-week, three-country mission to the region.

John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, held talks with senior officials from the Ouaddaï region, where Abeche is located, to discuss the situation facing the estimated 400,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in eastern Chad. He also met local UN officials.

Ahead of his scheduled visit tomorrow to IDP camps and settlements, Mr. Holmes voiced concern of their vulnerability of the refugees and displaced persons.

“The situation is very worrying,” he said. “The combined threat of militias, bandits and conflict between the Government and rebel groups could force tens of thousands more to flee their homes.”

The Emergency Relief Coordinator warned that aid workers are increasingly at risk of being caught in the crossfire between Government forces and rebel groups in eastern Chad and that humanitarian operations may be disrupted as a result.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told journalists today in Geneva that the agency is extremely concerned about the security at its camps in eastern Chad, especially after an attack on Sunday by armed men on a market close to Kounoungou, one of the camps.

At least five men and nine women, all refugees from Darfur, were assaulted during the attack, and some had to be taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of head injuries, Ms. Pagonis said.

Kounoungou camp is home to 13,000 Darfur refugees and is one of 12 camps run by UNHCR in eastern Chad for more than 220,000 refugees.

Ms. Pagonis said witnesses reported that a plane described as a Sudanese Antonov bombed areas near the eastern Chadian town of Bahai last Thursday, several kilometres away from the Oure Cassoni refugee camp, which houses 27,000 refugees. Although no refugees were hurt, two staff members with a NGO and several Chadian civilians were injured.

UN World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson Christiane Berthiaume said the insecurity in eastern Chad meant the agency – which in total helped 2 million people in February – could not provide assistance to some 78,000 people who needed it last month.