Protection of civilians remains key issue in Sudan, stresses UN humanitarian chief

30 November 2008

The top United Nations humanitarian official today stressed the need to ensure the protection of civilians and the safety of aid workers in Sudan, particularly in the strife-torn Darfur region, where the world body and its partners are aiding some 4.7 million people.

“The key issue remains protection on all levels protection of civilians, particularly women and children, safety and security for aid workers and respect for the fundamental principles of humanitarianism to enable us to continue assisting those affected by conflict and natural disaster,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said, as he wrapped up a six-day visit to Sudan.

Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, highlighted the precarious security environment in Darfur, where 11 aid workers have been killed so far this year, as well as over 260 vehicles hijacked, nearly 190 staff abducted and 35 convoys ambushed.

“Our ability to continue to assist people is hampered if humanitarians also become the victims of attacks. It is unacceptable that we have double the attacks on aid workers than we had this time last year,” stated Mr. Holmes.

He added that the Government of Sudan has a responsibility to protect humanitarian workers, but it is the rebel movements and those linked to them who appear to be responsible for most of these attacks. “I call on them to stop this kind of banditry and criminality once and for all.”

The UN aid chief also pointed to the need for improved cooperation with the Sudanese Government in facilitating humanitarian assistance in Darfur and other parts of the vast nation, and said he looked forward to practical steps such as easier visa procedures for non-governmental organization (NGO) workers.

“What we need above all in Darfur is a comprehensive ceasefire followed by a rapid peace settlement. But as long as we don't have peace so that people can return home, the humanitarian response will be needed,” Mr. Holmes said.

During his visit, the Under-Secretary-General met with representatives of the Government, UN agencies, international and national NGOs and donors. He visited all three states in Darfur, which remains the largest humanitarian operation in the world.

More than 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Darfur, an impoverished and relatively arid region on Sudan's western flank, since rebels began fighting Government forces and allied Janjaweed militiamen in 2003. Another 2.7 million civilians have had to flee their homes.

Mr. Holmes also visited Abyei, the disputed, oil-rich town in central Sudan, as well as Juba, where he met with officials of the Government of Southern Sudan and discussed the need to step up efforts to basic services such as education and health care.

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