UN agencies warn Darfur situation ‘unacceptable’

KHARTOUM (AP) — Fifteen UN agencies in Sudan warned Wednesday that their relief operations in Darfur would collapse unless the government and the rebels took immediate steps to end the violence there.

The UN aid agencies said in a dramatic statement in Khartoum that the humanitarian workers in Darfur have been “holding the line for the survival and protection of millions” of people affected by Darfur’s tragic conflict.

“That line cannot be held much longer,” read the statement by the agencies, including the World Food Programme, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organisation and the UN Development Programme.

The United Nations and its humanitarian partners have saved “hundreds of thousands of lives of civilians caught up in the region’s conflict” in the last two years, despite the growing dangers and insecurity their staff face, the statement said.

Darfur’s spiralling violence has claimed more than 200,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million who fled their homes since 2003, when ethnic African rebels took arms against the central Khartoum government, charging it with neglect.

The government is accused of having unleashed in response the janjaweed paramilitary group of Arab nomads, blamed for the worst atrocities in the conflict.

The UN groups’ statement said the violence is also increasingly directed against humanitarian workers themselves, with twelve relief workers killed in the last six months — more than in the previous two years combined.

“If this situation continues,” the UN humanitarian operation in Darfur will be “irreversibly jeopardised”, it said. With repeated military attacks and shifting front lines, access to the civilians in Darfur for the aid workers in December was worst for the past two years, it added. The aid agencies’ compounds in rebel-controlled areas have come under direct attacks by armed groups, forcing them to relocate repeatedly.

“More than 250,000 people have been displaced by fighting, many of them fleeing for the second or third time. Villages have been burnt, looted and arbitrarily bombed and crops and livestock destroyed. Sexual violence against women is occurring at alarming rates. This situation is unacceptable,” the statement warned.

In addition, deteriorating hygiene in the crowded and overstretched refugee camps triggered a cholera outbreak in 2006, which claimed 147 lives.

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