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Sudan: A crucial time for peace in Darfur, warns Egeland

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

New York, 19 May 2006 (IRIN) - The next few weeks are absolutely critical if lasting peace and reconciliation are to be achieved in the war-ravaged Darfur region of western Sudan, warned Jan Egeland, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, on Friday.

In his presentation to the UN Security Council following a recent visit to Sudan and Chad, Egeland outlined five goals that needed to be achieved immediately: implementing the Darfur peace agreement; bringing on board those who have not signed it; substantially strengthening the African Union Mission in Sudan [AMIS]; accelerating the transition of AMIS to a UN operation; and securing and funding the humanitarian lifeline to more than three million people.

"The alternative to peace and reconciliation is what I saw in Gereida in South Darfur: massive displacement, constant violence and attacks against civilians, and a few humanitarian organisations struggling to provide relief to more and more people," Egeland said, adding that the number of displaced people in Gereida had tripled in the last four months, with current estimates ranging between 100,000 and 120,000.

"Recently arrived IDPs [internally displaced persons] I spoke to gave harrowing accounts of attacks on their villages by government forces and militias only 12 days prior to my visit," Egeland said. "In fact, armed militia attacked another village southwest of Gereida since then, on 14 May, as confirmed by AMIS."

Egeland said it "was too early to tell what the impact of the peace agreement on the ground would be." The accord was signed on 5 May in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, by three of Darfur's rebel groups, but two smaller groups have refused to sign. Demonstrations against the agreement have also taken place in camps for the displaced in all three Darfur states. "The most troubling aspect of several of these demonstrations has been the targeting of unarmed AMIS personnel and compounds inside the camps," he said.

Egeland praised the dedication of the AMIS peacekeepers. "It cannot be right that so many of the courageous men and women serving with AMIS have not even been paid their salary for two months. AMIS has to be supported and strengthened immediately to give it the capacity and credibility to do its job."

AMIS withdrew from Kalma and other areas in Darfur following attacks by militia against humanitarian workers. "The attacks against relief workers have been relentless and are threatening our operations in many areas. Our staff, compounds, trucks and vehicles are being targeted literally on a daily basis. In Geneina alone, there were seven armed incidents against NGOs in three weeks," Egeland said. "I hope that AMIS civilian police can return quickly to Kalma and several other camps from which it had to withdraw in the last few days."

On restrictions of access for humanitarian actors in Darfur, Egeland said government authorities had assured him that procedures for humanitarian organisations would be made clear and predictable. He announced that the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which was forced to leave Darfur in April, would be allowed to resume operations. "The speedy return of NRC will help not only to lower tensions in what has been the largest and most volatile camp in Darfur, but also allow much needed preparations for the approaching rainy season to start," he said.

Egeland also said new contributions had reduced the funding shortfall from 80 percent to 60 percent: "The World Food Programme will be able to avert at least some of the ration cut for Darfur as a result of several generous pledges: an additional 47,000 metric tonnes from the US government, a purchase of 35,000 metric tonnes through internal loans against an expected pledge from the European Commission, and 20,000 metric tonnes being contributed by the [Sudanese] Government of National Unity."

However, WFP still needs an additional 53,000 metric tonnes of cereals for September and October to cover the entire hunger season, which is the pre-harvest period during which stores from the previous harvest have run out.

"Overall, we still face a shortfall of US$389 million for Darfur alone," Egeland told the Council. "We urgently need additional and very generous contributions from donors, also for the rest of Sudan. ... I want to appeal especially to those donors that have contributed much less so far than last year, as well as donors in the Gulf region."